The march of CSKA Moscow through the Euroleague continued impressively in the first Top 16 game on Wendesday with a 76-95 road win at Unicaja of Spain. Living up to its reputation for the most victories in the first phase, CSKA took over an even game after halftime and never looked back while putting on a basketball clinic in Malaga. J.R. Holden and Victor Alexander played their respective outside and inside games to perfection. They finished with 22 points each, with Alexander scoring 14 of his in the pivotal third quarter. Darius Songaila added 16 and Nikos Hatzivrettas 11 for the winners, while Theodoros Papaloukas orchestrated both the offensive and defensive efforts in the second half. Unicaja started the game with a rain of threes in the first quarter, but the guests proved to be more solid when the hosts started to miss from downtown. For Unicaja, Stephane Risacher was the best scorer with 19 points (4 of 6 threes). Berni Rodriguez added 13 and Ademola Okulaja nailed 11. CSKA opens Group D with a 1-0 record while Unicaja starts 0-1.
What started as an easy game for CSKA, who climbed to a quick 3-12 advantage thanks to another big start by Songaila, turned into a three-point shootout waged by Unicaja, who would end the first quarter making 7 of 8 triples. The points beyond the arc by Risacher (3 of 3 triples), Mous Sonko and Louis Bullock allowed the hosts to tie the game at 16-16. The pace was fast, mainly thanks to Holden and his penetrations, which turned the game into a nightmare for Unicaja's defense. Head coach Boza Maljkovic decided to change to a zone defense, while at the other end, the three-pointer bonanza went on for Unicaja. The hosts only scored 2 two-point shots during the quarter, with all the rest coming from downtown. In the lane, however, Alexander proved to be a dominant force for CSKA, while the scoring contribution of Hatzivrettas pulled the guests within 25-23 at the end of 10 minutes.
In the second quarter, the three-point rhythm of Unicaja decreased as expected, but the game was fast just the same. CSKA based its progression around the offensive rebounds leading to second shot options, while Rodriguez came up with 5 straight points for Unicaja. Soon, however, some missed shots by Roger Esteller and Milan Gurovic allowed CSKA to jump ahead. The visitors' lead never surpassed 4 points, 32-36, the result of 5 straight points by Holden on a fastbreak layup followed by a three from the corner. Head coach Bozidar Maljkovic returned to his starting lineup trying to get the same feeling of the first quarter, the 14th point by Risacher allowed Unicaja to tie the game again, 38-38. Songaila's offensive rebound and a slashing layup by Holden were enough to earn CSKA a five-point lead to defend at the break, 38-43.
After resumption, CSKA stepped on court ready to take control of the game, and it did so quickly. With Theodoros Papaloukas now running the offense, playing alongside Holden, plus the great effort of Alexander and Songaila under the boards, the Russian visitors started to pull away slowly but steadily, first at 42-48 and later at 45-56, the first double-digit lead of the game. Alexander was absolutely unstoppable under the hoop, while for the hosts, Milan Gurovic did his best from the 6.25 line to keep his team in the game. The zone defense ordered by CSKA coach Dusan Ivkovic forced Unicaja into bad long-range shots. Alexander came up big with 8 consecutive points that put CSKA ahead 52-65. Berni Rodriguez also hit from the arc for Unicaja, but it was useless. Papaloukas waltzed to the basket for a three-point play and then finished the quarter feeding Alexander for yet another basket. It was 54-70 after 30 minutes and an uphill climb for the home team.
The last quarter was a mere formality. Unicaja knew it was not going to win the game, and CSKA just kept playing strong. Alexander went over 20 points early in the quarter, and then Holden joined him on a three-pointer coming off a fastbreak bounce pass from Papaloukas. Hatzivrettas and Sergei Panov picked up the scoring from there for CSKA. Louis Bullock gave one of the last signs of life for Unicaja with his triple for 64-79. Holden did the honors of putting the final margin over 20 points and CSKA headed for home looking as good as it had at the end of the regular season.
Wednesday, February 26, 2003