The path to the Final Four out of Group D must still pass through Moscow after CSKA remained undefeated at home on Wednesday with a dominant 89-70 victory over Unicaja. CSKA took advantage of injuries to Unicaja's frontline to turn around the scoreboard in the second quarter and coast to the finish by the same margin of its victory to open the Top 16 in Malaga. The win improves CSKA's record to 3-1, good now for a first-place tie after Efes Pilsen lost later Wednesday at Cibona. Unicaja drops to 0-4 and mathematical elimination from its first Top 16. Aleksander Bashminov led the winners with 20 points while making 8 of 10 shots. Victor Alexander added 16 from the paint and Nikos Hatzivrettas bagged 13. For Unicaja, Chuck Kornegay was top scorer with 14 points, Stephane Risacher added 13, Roger Esteller and Louis Bullock 12 apiece.
Both teams were content to trade baskets from the outset. As usual, CSKA went inside to Songaila early to stake short leads. His 6 points were balanced, however, by 5 from Risacher, and when Kornegay hit a second basket for Unicaja, the CSKA lead was only 10-9. Holden's first basket and a pair of Victor Khryapa free throws seemed to put the Russians in charge again at 14-9, especially after Hatzivrettas buried a triple from the corner to punctuate the situation at 17-11. But once CSKA's shots stopped dropping, Unicaja was the team that took over. Esteller had a three-point play and a fastbreak jumper to start and finish a 0-11 run for the visitors in which Kornegay dropped two more baskets. Everything came on the fastbreak for Unicaja, and only the insertion of Bashminov for CSKA stopped the run. He hit his first shot, and after Milan Gurovic popped a three for Unicaja, the CSKA center added a baseline jumper that limited the damage to 21-25 after 10 minutes.
Everything Unicaja gained in the first quarter it squandered right away in the second. With teenage center Francisco Vazquez, the backup to Kornegay in the absence of injured Frederic Weis and Adam Wojcik, as the only big man in the lineup, Unicaja got overwhelmed by Alexander and Bashminov, who scored 9 points in a 10-2 run to open the quarter and put CSKA in control again at 31-27. Kornegay came back in and tried to stem the tide, but CSKA was rolling freely now. Bashminov stepped out and splashed through a three-pointer in the middle of a new 9-1 run that made it 40-31. For good measure, Bashminov also scored his team's last 3 shots of the half. Another Gurovic three-pointer allowed Unicaja to get within 46-36 by the break, but no one would have know the visitors had been a threat just 10 minutes earlier. Bashminov was up to 14 points to pace CSKA at that point, while Kornegay had 10 for Unicaja.
After resumption, Unicaja tried to play with more organization and long plays. With some help on offensive rebounds and good defense, the Spaniards managed to contain the Russians. Free throws by Louis Bullock for his first 2 points of the game pulled Unicaja within 48-40, but CSKA soon replied. Holden fired in from the arc and another quick fastbreak slammed by Sergey Monya put the hosts ahead again at 53-40. The mirage for Unicaja started to vanish as CSKA's defense started making steals after another Bashminov's jumper made it 57-45. CSKA's power in the paint was decisive as Alexander's point total climbed to 14, near that of Bashminov. Unicaja started to run out of ideas on offense, and CSKA took advantage to increase the lead to 69-53 lead after 30 minutes.
Things continued much the same way early in the last quarter, as CSKA's tight defense impeded Unicaja players from reaching the basket. The resulting steals pushed the home team's lead to 73-55 lead, and any notion of a Unicaja comeback was receding. The return of Kornegay gave Unicaja some more consistency inside, but poor shooting percentages doomed the guests.With 5 minutes to go, Unicaja was still not giving up, but CSKA didn't hesitate to commit fouls to stop all attacks by the guests, who went to the free throw line enough to slash the deficit to 75-61. The last minutes of the game were a mere formality in which CSKA decreased its rhythm, but was still good enough to keep out of danger at 80-64 with less than 3 minutes to go. In the last plays, Holden and Bashminov connected on some fancy fastbreaks to entertain the fans, who were already content in knowing that another Top 16 victory would stay in Moscow and that CSKA's Final Four options were intact.
Wednesday, March 26, 2003