Unicaja held off Real Madrid 75-71
Unicaja edged Real Madrid 75-71 in a thriller that went down to the final seconds and caught the whites for a share of second place in Turkish Airlines Euroleague Group B on Wednesday. After a back-and-fourth contest, Madrid had the ball down 2 in the final minute. Sergio Llull drove to tie the game, but missed and Saul Blanco iced the win for Unicaja from the line. Blanco finished with a Euroleague career-best 17 points to lead Unicaja to a 4-3 record, same as Madrid and Lottomatica Roma. Joel Freeland tallied 15 points and 10 rebounds, Rod Blakney scored 13 and Robert Archibald added 11. Next week head coach Aito Garcia Reneses’s men will aim to take the top spot when they host Group B leader Olympiacos. Llull paced Madrid with 16 points, Clay Tucker added 11 and Ante Tomic 10. Madrid hosts Roma in Week 8.
Freeland opened fire with a short jumper for an early 2-0 lead, but Llul needed just a few seconds to answer with back-to-back three pointers to put Real Madrid 2-6 up in the early going. Tomic extended the gap even more with an easy layup as the visitors dominated the boards at both ends. Unicaja added points only from the free throw line with Carlos Jimenez and Freeland collecting 2 each to make it a 2-points game midway through the first period. Llull came to the rescue again, adding 5 points in a row to keep a safe margin for the whites, 8-13, with four minutes to go. Both teams were shooting poorly, but Real survived thanks to its better rebounding performance. Freeland hit a jumper and Jimenez followed him with a trey to tie the game, but Real didn’t tremble and reacted with another three by Jorge Garbajosa to retain a 3-point lead entering the last minute. Archibald wasted one of his two free throws right before Tucker closed the first period with an unbelievable acrobatic buzzer-beating shot for a 16-20 Madrid lead.
Archibald and Novica Velickovic took over for each team right after the break, hitting twice each from the field to raise the score to 20-24 after. Panchi Barrera and Freeland followed Archibald with back-to-back jumpers to tie the game, as Velickovic missed twice in a row, losing his momentum. Pablo Prigioni nailed a three to retain the lead, but Real kept wasting chances to make it bigger despite having a lot of second chance shot attempts. The Argentinean point guard hit again from downtown right after a timeout to return a 4-point edge for the whites, as Unicaja was unable to find a go-to guy on its offense. Garbajosa hit a mid-range jumper to raise the differences to 6 with four minutes to go in the half, but Blackney managed to stop the drought with a key three that gave some breath to the hosts. The game turned ugly at that point, as both teams wasted almost every offense. Archibald exploited his energy in the paint to keep Unicaja alive but Nikola Mirotic and Llul combined for 5 points to build a 31-39 lead with a few seconds to go in the quarter. Archibald added a layup to close the first half with Unicaja trailing 33-39.
The defenses kept prevailing over offenses after the intermission, as only Tomic and Blakney were able to add points over the first two minutes of the third quarter. Real kept trying to feed its giant inside, but no benefits came out of it. Blakney repeated with a nice short jumper as no one else in Unicaja was able to find the net. Prigioni dished out a great pass to D’Or Fisher, who made a pair of free throws off the foul to keep the 6-point edge for the visitors. After Blanco seemed hit a three, Carlos Suarez responded quickly from the same place followed by another three-point play by Llull to increase the margin to 40-49. The visitors’ defense was really dominating the game, as Unicaja found nothing but a wall on every offense. Felipe Reyes hit twice form the line for a double-digit lead. Blanco ended the drought for the home team with a jumper and a nice layup, but he found no help from his teammates to build a solid comeback. Velickovic responded early, keeping a steady 10-point lead, 45-55, entering the last minute. Archibald, assisted by Blanco, used the last possession to reduce the gap to 8 points at the end of the third period.
Blanco brought Unicaja within 6 points right after the break, exploiting his speed against Velickovic’s defense. Felipe responded under the boards, as Uros Trikpovic kept Unicaja’s momentum with a great three pointer to reduce the margin to 52-57 three minutes into the fourth quarter. It was Tucker, with an amazing three-plus-one, who silenced the home crowd and gave the whites another chance to break the game. The game turned into a two-man show at that point, with Trikpkovic and Tucker clamoring for the title of best shooter. The Serbian hit twice from downtown to make it 61-63, midway through the fourth quarter, as the fans awakened at the stands. Tucker didn’t panic and sunk another trey to prevent Unicaja from capping the comeback. Freeland went to the line for another two, but Suarez came up big with a deep three for a 63-69 white lead with four minutes to go. Unicaja didn’t surrender, though. Blakney added 3 more points from the line as Blanco drew a flagrant foul on Tucker that turned into a four-point play to send the lead back to the hosts, 70-69 with two minutes to go. The visitors seemed shocked, but put all trust on their defense and managed to take the lead back through Tomic, who scored a nice hook shot for a 70-71 edge entering the last minute. Berni took over and raised people from the stands with a huge three with less than 30 seconds to go, forcing Real to make a good plan for their last offense. Llull was the chosen one to take the last shot, but he missed the layup and fouled Blanco right after that, allowing Unicaja to escape with a great 75-71 home win.
Thursday, December 2, 2010