Unicaja Malaga arrived to Andorra after a five-hour train ride from Malaga to Barcelona followed by a three-hour bus ride to Andorra. During the first quarter of its Top 16 Round 3 against MoraBanc Andorra, Unicaja did not look very fresh: a three-pointer by Jeremy Senglin gave the hosts a double-digit margin, 22-11, after 10 minutes.
Unicaja head coach Luis Casimiro found answers on his bench, where two guards found their momentum to get the team back in the game, stay within striking distance, and eventually win it down the stretch.
Starting guard Josh Adams rescued his team late in the first half, scoring 8 of his 22 points to bring Unicaja as close as 31-30. Adams kept doing a little bit of everything on offense – jumpers, three-pointers and assists – until his big slam tied the game, 56-56, late in the third quarter.
Andorra found its go-to guy in guard Clevin Hannah, who helped his team regain a 70-66 lead at the end of the third quarter. That is when Coach Casimiro made his definitive move: he brought point guard Alberto Diaz off the bench, went for a bigger lineup with Carlos Suarez, Adam Waczynski and Deon Thompson together on court, and switched to a 3-2 zone defense, which surprised Andorra.
Diaz and another guard, Dario Brizuela, had no points between them until then, but the two reserves soon teamed up to relieve Adams of the scoring burden. Each had a three-pointer on the way to Unicaja's first lead of the game, 74-72. The duo combined for Unicaja's first 18 points in the fourth quarter. They finished the game with 22 points – Brizuela 12, Diaz 10 – out of Unicaja's 26 in the final 10 minutes.
Andorra hit just 3-of-12 three-point shots in that final quarter, one of them by Hannah at the buzzer when the outcome was already clear. In the end, Unicaja had fresh legs when it mattered most and that made the difference in a game that went down to small details like missed free throws and turnovers. Unicaja made 23 of 26 free throws (88.5%) and Andorra hit just 14 of 22 (63.6%). Unicaja limited turnovers to just 10 and Andorra picked up as many as 15.
"We stopped them with our defense, and I think we did a great job at rebounding, both on offense and defense," Coach Casimiro said after the game. "That allowed us to score, gain confidence and reach the final minutes with the lead after trailing for the rest of the game. That gave us what we needed to win the game."
Unicaja and Andorra will face each other again in Malaga next Wednesday, January 29. Expect a very different game, as Andorra is a proud time that wants to keep fighting for survival, as head coach Ibon Navarro said in his press conference.
"Right now, we would need to win all three games and get all the tie-break advantages. We cannot talk about winning three games when we haven't won any," he said. "We have to recharge our batteries, play in the Spanish League and prepare to face Unicaja again."