Efes Pilsen of Istanbul made it to the Top 16 out of Group A on Wednesday night after beating Unicaja 66-67 on the road in Malaga, Spain. Unicaja's record falls to 5-7 while Efes climbs to a safe 7-5, since the Turkish club won both games between the two teams. The game was decided in the last quarter when both teams were nervous because so much depended on the final score. But in the end, it was visiting Efes who took more benefit from the situation, and was the team that commited less mistakes in the last ten minutes. Even though Unicaja managed to build a 10-point lead in the first half, Efes made a big comeback to neutralize the deficit and forge its own double-digit lead in the third quarter, 41-51. That lead, too, was neutralized almost single-handedly by Unicaja guard Carlos Cabezas, who put his team ahead by six early in the final quarter. But the pressure proved too much on the Spaniards. Efes was led by Marcus Brown with 18 points, including the two free throws that provided the winning points. Kaspars Kambala helped with 13 points and Omer Onan and Mehmet Okur added 12 each. For the losers, Carlos Cabezas and Milan Gurovic sank 13 points each, and Berni Rodriguez had 10.
Unicaja led by as many as 10 points early in the game, after only 8 minutes. With its shots falling and its big men ruling the boards, the Spaniards went up 20-10 but gave up some of that lead by the time the quarter ended 24-17. Frederick Weis was a pilar in the paint and Efes could not find any outside answers yet on offense.
Efes tried everything to put the breaks on Unicaja while its own offense faltered, but not even a zone called for in the second quarter by Oktay Mahmut could help. Forward Veljko Mrsic soon was knocking down a three-pointer that put the locals ahead 13 point, 35-22. As it turned out, however, that would be Unicaja's high-water mark. The tables started to turn from there with a 4-14 run by the visitors that lef the lead at just 39-36 going into the lockerrooms.
Coming out after the break, smelling a change in the momentum, Efes broke the game open with another run almost identical to the first, 4-15, that turned the scoreboard to 41-51 for the visitors, a nine-minute turnaround of 23 points. Each time Unicaja came down and found no easy way to the basket against Efes, it went back on defense with less and less effectiveness. Then, however, Unicaja got a reprieve. Cabeza, the young point guard, ripped off nine unanswered points to singlehandedly pull his team back into the lead at 55-53 at the end of three quarters.
With its crowd surging in support and Cabezas still hot, Unicaja added four points to the lead. It seemed like the momentum belonged solely to the home team again, but no. Efes dashed the hopes of the crowd, as Brown became the only sure scorere among mistakes on both sides. His free throws were good for the final lead, and Cabezas was called for travelling with the possesson that was Unicaja's last chance.
Wednesday, January 30, 2002