Unics Kazan of Russia kept its Final Eight dream alive by knocking off the already qualified Benetton Treviso 81-59 in Group J on Tuesday. Unics improved its record to 2-3, but needs Turk Telekom to beat Zadar in Croatia later Tuesday in order to stay in the Final Eight race. Benetton lost for the first time in five Last 16 games, but has already clinched a Final Eight berth and will win the group if Zadar loses or if Benetton beats Zadar next week in Italy. After an even start, Unics took over in the two middle quarters, outscoring Benetton 44-23 to take control until the final buzzer. Vladimir Veremeenko paced the hosts with 18 points and 8 rebounds, Terrell Lyday netted 14 points to go with 4 steals, Dmitry Sokolov produced 13 points and Marko Popovic added 11. Gary Neal had a solid performance with 22 points for Benetton, but Sandro Nicevic was the only other scorer to reach double figures for the visitors. He had 10 points.
Vermeenko opened the scoring with a bucket inside for the hosts, but Neal answered with a three-pointer on the following possession. Then Neal assisted to CJ Wallace and added a two-point shot to give Benetton a 4-7 lead. Veremeenko and Neal exchanged triples, before Dmitry Sokolov dunked despite being fouled. He made the additional free throw to even it at 10-10. The teams continued to match each others scoring at 13-13 and 15-15. Nicevic stepped up to score 6 of Benetton's 8 points at the end of the first quarter, drilling a two-pointer to give the visitors an 18-21 advantage after the first 10 minutes. Marc Jackson entered the court at the start of the second quarter and needed only seconds to come through with his first basket for Unics. Though Nicevic and Dashaun Wood scored at the other end, Unics managed to tie it at 26-26 after Kresimir Loncar made a layup and Marko Popovic added a jump shot. Neal and Nicevic, who had a combined 24 first-half points, paced Benetton to 29-32, but Popovic and Tariq Kirksay were ready to erase that with a pair of three-pointers. Reserve Eugeny Voronov found his rhythm with 6 points for Unics, before Veremeenko capped the 16-5 run with a put-back that made it 42-35 at halftime.
Matteo Soragna started the third quarter with a two-point shot, but then Sokolov made a put-back and Lyday put up a one-man show with a triple, a layup and a dunk to expand the difference to 51-37. Though Neal made a shot for the guests, Unics continued to dominate on defense, while Sokolov and Vermeenko scored 4 points apiece to make it 59-40. After Benetton head coach Oktay Mahmuti took his second timeout in four minutes, Wallace and Massimo Bulleri finally managed to score a layup each, but with 10 minutes to go, Unics was in full control at 62-44. Vermeenko, who scored the hosts' last 5 points of the third quarter, started the final quarter with a two-pointer and a layup to keep Benetton at the 20-point distance: 66-46. Then three minutes with no scoring followed, before Neal made a three-point play for the guests. But Unics wouldn't let the visitors any chance, summoning a new 11-3 run, led by Loncar, Popovic and Lyday. With two minutes to left on the clock, the scoreboard showed 77-52 in the hosts' favor, and nobody doubted that Benetton's winning streak was about to end.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009