Having already qualified for the Top 16 due to the results in other groups on Wednesday, Skipper Bologna used an expanded 10-man rotation to thrilled its fans with an uptempo 82-60 victory versus Unicaja in the last game of the regular season on Thursday. The victory means that Skipper goes into the Top 16 as the third-placed team in Group B with an 8-6 mark, while Unicaja said goodbye to the Euroleage with a 4-10 mark. Skipper got 11 points from Erazem Lorbek, Matjaz Smodis and Hanno Mottola and 10 more from AJ Guyton. A total of 10 Skipper players played at least 9 minutes. No one from Unicaja reached double figures, but Darren Phillip scored 9 and both Walter Herrman and German Gabriel finished with 8 points.
Both teams insisted on going down low to their big guys early on. Smodis and Mottola responded with quick baskets that gave Skipper a 6-5 edge after 2 minutes. Unicaja's Larry Lewis and Chuck Kornegay didn't back down to the challenge and after Lewis's triple Unicaja grabbed a 6-8 edge in the game's 5th minute. Mottola struck back for the home team, burrying two straight shots and Skipper took a 14-10 edge on Milos Vujanic's first basket of the game. Lewis and Vujanic both missed three-point attempts and Skipper was frustrated by Unicaja's defense. Unicaja moved the ball well and Berni Rodriguez and Stephane Risacher knocked down open shots to give the lead back to Unicaja, 14-15 with one minute remaining in the first. Skipper gave its youngsters an early chance, and teenagers Marco Belinelli and Lorbek responded by nailing perimeter shots that put Skipper ahead 19-17 at the close of the first quarter.
Belinelli gave Skipper a spark to start the second quarter, nailing his second triple of the night. Skipper grabbed a 24-19 lead after Tomas Van den Spiegel's first basket, but Berni Rodriguez responded with a tirple of his own and Unicaja knotted the score at 24-24 after Herrman's basket. Skipper's scoring punch came once again from its youngsters, as Lorbek and Belinelli scored 6 consecutive points, which forced Unicaja to call a timeout with Skipper ahead 30-24. Carlos Cabezas ended a 3 minute scoreless drought for Unicaja by nailing a triple to pull the guests back within 5 points at the 16 minute mark. Skipper responded with another 6-0 run keyed by a Mottola's second triple of the game. Despite falling behind by double digits, Unicaja kept fighting. A Herrmann basket followed by two German free throws pulled Unicaja to within 7 points, but on the next possession Mottola earned a trip to the line and sank his free throws to put Skipper ahead 40-31 in the 19th minute. Unicaja scored 5 unanswered points in the 20th minute, but Skipper took a 44-36 edge into halftime after another Pozzecco penetration led to a Smodis dunk just before the buzzer.
A fast-paced start to the third quarter benefitted Skipper, as Vujanic nailed five straight points then found Van den Spiegel for a dunk to give Skipper its biggest lead of the game at 51-36. Unicaja managed only 3 points through the first 5 minutes of the third quarter, as Phillip scored a three-point play to pull the guests to 51-39. Phillip's aggresiveness on the offensive glass earned him a another trip to the line, but the game's pace slowed down considerably as both the teams each made just 1 field goal through the first 6 minutes of the quarter. Sonko cut Unicaja's deficit down to 9 points, as he drained 4 straight free throws, but Smodis responded for Skipper with 3 quick points from the low block to boost Skipper's lead back up to 14 points with 2 minutes left in the quarter. Herrmann nailed a fade-away jumper of Smodis, but Skipper cruised to a 62-46 lead at the end of the quarter on baskets by Lorbek and Patricio Prato.
Gianmarco Pozzecco dominated the ball to the delight of the Bologna fans, scoring Skipper's first 4 points as the Skipper lead swelled to 20 points early in the fourth quarter. Guyton and Stefano Mancinelli thrilled the fans with a spectacular three-point play followed by a high-rising dunk that boosted Skipper's edge to 71-48. German responded with 2 triples for Unicaja as the game wound down but the guests' hopes were drowned out by the Bologna public's applause for their club's highlight-making show.
Thursday, February 19, 2004
Nate Jaffee, Bologna