With a remarkable 12th victory in a row, this one in come-from-behind fashion, Unicaja finished the regular season as Group C champion after downing host Pau-Orthez 53-68 on Wednesday. Unicaja finished tied for the best record in the regular season, 12-2, with Panathinaikos. Unicaja was first in the group because it beat Panathinaikos in both their meetings. Pau dropped to 4-10 and finished seventh in Group C. Sandro Nicevic led the winners with 15 points on 6-for-6 shooting and pulled 11 rebounds in his second game back from injury. Berni Rodriguez and Walter Herrmann each added 12 points for Unicaja and were key in the final quarter. T.J. Lux led the hosts with 9 points and 8 rebounds, as Unicaja's strong defense limited Pau to 19-for-67 shooting. Pau led 33-29 at halftime, but Unicaja only allowed 6 points in the third quarter to get a 39-45 margin. Herrmann had all his points in the final period to make Unicaja seal the win and the group title.
Jeff Varem's basket launched Pau ahead 2-1 after Sandro Nicevic's free throw got Unicaja started, but Stephane Risacher scored fast to give the visitors back the lead. Defenses took over as both teams struggled to make shots. Marcus Brown broke the spell with free throws that left Unicaja ahead 4-5 midway through a slow quarter. Drozdov made his second basket to tie the game, while Unicaja had problems shooting, making only 1 basket in 8 attempts until Nicevic scored again. Pau, however, committed the fouls that sent Unicaja to the free throw line up to 10 times for an 8-12 edge. Before the quarter could end, however, Brooks Sales hit his first shot and Sims rattled off 5 points of his own to put Pau ahead, 15-12, after 10 minutes.
From the bench, Thierry Rupert and Frederic Fauthoux kept Pau in front early in the second quarter until Sims could blast a triple to make it a 21-14 led. Pau's defense quieted Unicaja for almost 3 minutes until Nicevic made his third shot without a miss, but Drozdov cancelled that with his own driving layup. Nicevic kept hot, however, and Jorge Garbajosa joined him with a three-point play, so when Rodriguez buried a triple, the guests were within 25-24. Nicevic, with his 5 perfect shot in the lane, pushed Unicaja ahead, 25-26, but after that Pau's defense tightened long enough for Thierry Gadou, Lux and Xane D'Almeida to make 5 free throws and regain a 30-26 lead. Drozdov answered Nicevic's next basket with the last of the half, leaving Pau in front 33-29 at the break.
Nicevic seemed like he might never miss when his sixth shot in as many tries opened the secod half. But those were his last points of the night. Stephane Risacher took over for the guests with free throws and a jumper to tie, 33-33, before another scoring lull. Carlos Cabezas broke that with a layup for Unicaja, and before his next one, Marcus Brown landed a three-pointer. Now it was Unicaja's defense that ruled as minutes passed with only the guests adding free throws to a run that reached 0-12 and a lead that rose into double digits, 35-45. Thierry Gadou and Lux finally got 4 points back for Pau before the third quarter ended 39-45.
The big question going into the last quarter was which team would be able to deal with the other's defense. Unicaja got a positive clue when Walter Herrmann drove for the first basket, but Fauthoux found a three-point play to get Pau within 43-47. Rodriguez and Herrmann combined for the next 4 points, but Fauthoux and Sourata Cisse matched them, so it was still a four-point difference, 47-51. Herrmann took over then, making another drive before spotting up to hit a triple that pushed the lead to 49-58 with 4 minutes left. Although Cisse and Brooks again cut it, Herrmann answered with his second three-point shot and Rodriguez copied him to make sure that first place in Group C would belong to Unicaja.
Wednesday, February 8, 2006