Group C leader Unicaja needed overtime at home to defeat last-place Partizan 83-79 on Wednesday in Malaga, Spain to preserve its impressive win streak and guarantee that it will lead group in the upcoming Top 16.The three group winners and best second-place team head Top 16 groups and thereby avoid each other in the next round. Unicaja retains the first place of Group A with an 11-2 record, tied with Panathinaikos, but whichever finishes second will head be the best second-place team in all groups. A brilliant Marcus Brown stepped up in the first quarter with 13 points to launch Unicaja to a 14-point halftime lead. Partizan still trailed by double digits after three quarters, but a 0-13 run soon put the guests ahead 61-66. A triple by Pepe Sanchez allowed Unicaja to force overtime, where Jorge Garbajosa stepped up with a pair of three-point shots to seal the deal. Brown led the winners with 20 points and made 11 of 12 free throws. Stephane Risacher added 14 for Unicaja, Berni Rodriguez 13 and Garbajosa 12. Already-eliminated Partizan fell to 2-11 despite Dejan Milojevic's double-double of 19 points and 17 rebounds. Nikola Pekovic added 15 points, Luka Bogdanovic 13, Uros Tripkovic and Predrag Suput 11 each for the visitors. Unicaja was also happy to see center Sandro Nicevic make his Euroleague debut for the team after months of injury, posting 8 points, 3 rebounds and 2 blocks in 13 minutes.
Brown had a storm to start as he scored Unicaja's first 7 points, including a triple, for a 7-0 start. Between Pekovic and Milojevic the game was back to 7-4 as Partizan seemed to wake up, but Brown was on fire and Daniel Santiago soon joined him with three free throws that made it 12-6. Brown was up to 13 points of Unicaja's 18 but Nenad Stefanovic was the one to put an end to the first quarter with a free throw for a 18-7 score after Nicevic stepped on court for Unicaja after several months of injury.
The second quarter started as Tripkovic and Berni Rodriguez exchanged three-pointers and Suput blasted another to get Partizan into a 23-13 score, and he stepped up for a new bucket as Unicaja looked for inside players with Brown on the bench. Partizan did well in the offensive rebounds with 7 captured so far, but Unicaja didn't need them because the shots went in as Risacher blasted a triple and Rodriguez added a bucket to double Partizan's score in minute 16, 30-15. Partizan was shooting a 29% from the field as Rodriguez added a new triple for Unicaja, but Suput and Pekovic posted back-to-back baskets for the guests as the score showed 36-22 entering minute 19. There was still time for Aleksandar Smiljanic and Garbajosa to trade baskets for a 38-24 score at the break.
Pekovic started the second half with the right foot scoring back-to-back baskets, and Milojevic stretched the run to 0-8 for a 38-30 score after 4 minutes with no points for Unicaja. Brown reappeared with two free throws to get Unicaja going again, and Garbajosa fed Nicevic for his first basket as Unicaja breathed comfortable for a 42-30. The hosts advanced thanks to free throws now, and Partizan looked outside as Bogdanovic and Tripkovic hit two straight baskets again. Nicevic was sustaining Unicaja now but Bogdanovic nailed Partizan's third triple to make it 50-43. Tripkovic found the space for two straight triples, but Sanchez erased one with his own and Risacher hit the jumper to put an end to the third quarter with a 59-49 score.
Bogdanovic slammed to start the last period, and Petar Bozic added two free throws to pull Partizan within 59-53. Santiago replied fast for Unicaja pulling also the first offensive rebound of the night for the hosts, but Bogdanovic had a three prepared to surpass him in the other end. He repeated the action once again and Petar Bozic joined him for a 0-9 run that left Partizan ahead for the first time in the game forcing Unicaja's timeout, as the score was 61-62. The guests' lead climbed up to 61-66 making it a 0-13 run, broken by Risacher with his layup. Brown made it closer with two free throws but Milojevic maintained Partizan alive in minute 38. Time was running out when Risacher scored for the hosts, as the home crowd was anxious seeing the tough situation its team had reached, a 67-68 in the last minute. Suput found a layup under the rim, however, Garbajosa fed Sanchez for a providential triple that put up a 70-70 and forced a Partizan timeout, but Milojevic missed a layup that sent the game into overtime.
Milojevic hit 5 points of his own to match those of Garbajosa and Brown as the score went up to 75-75. Rodriguez found a layup to put Unicaja ahead and Garbajosa added a new triple after Suput missed. Unicaja was ahead by 5 points, 80-75, and Partizan called a timeout. It worked because Milojevic and Smiljanic hit back-to-back baskets but Brown found Garbajosa in the space for a new triple that made things clearer, 83-79, as the clock ticked away and Unicaja kept a win that seemed clearer in the first half.
Wednesday, February 1, 2006