Unicaja Malaga and its fans celebrated a magic Wednesday night after a great battle that had many ups and downs and hung in the balance for several minutes. Unicaja achieved its goals when it beat already-qualified Tofas Bursa 76-68 at the Palacio de Deportes Martin Carpena to secure first place in Top 16 Group H of the 7DAYS EuroCup. The former EuroCup champs needed a win to qualify and needed to do it by more than 2 points to clinch the first spot. Both goals were accomplished.
Even though the hosts managed to build a 9-point lead at halftime, Tofas came out strong after the break and turned the game upside down with a 0-13 run. As Unicaja’s head coach Luis Casimiro recognized after the game, that was a crucial moment: "I think the game was already a different one. Much tougher, with less space and less open shots. But we read the game well, we focused on defense as we had lost the fluency that we had to score in the first half."
Unicaja's defensive display in the last quarter was "extraordinary", according to Casimiro’s words: "Holding them at 9 points in the last quarter, and to stop a team like this which is very good in offense, says a lot of good things about our job in defense."
The result of that defensive effort was that Tofas recorded its worst scoring mark of the Top 16 and its second-worst this season. It was unable to score a single basket for the first 5 minutes of the decisive quarter and even though Unicaja wasn’t excellent in offense, it became clear that it was the key to secure the win.
"When the game was 59-59, we made many stops in defense, but we didn't find correct shots. Sometimes we found them and didn't score, but in offense, we couldn’t find a solution versus their aggressiveness. I believe this was the key to us losing," acknowledged Tofas head coach Orhun Ene.
But defense wasn't the only factor to explain why Unicaja solved a tough contest like this. Offensive balance is another one. All nine players that Casimiso used against Tofas scored. No one contributed more than 14, and no one had less than 4. And, the most important thing, many of them took over when their team needed them most.
Josh Adams, who finished the game as Unicaja’s top scorer with 14 points, led the way in the first quarter with 3 triples. Adam Waczynski took over in the second with 11 points with another three bombs and Carlos Suarez became the go-to-guy when Tofas rallied back with 7 points in less than 4 minutes in the third. Later, in the decisive quarter, it was Jaime Fernandez's turn and he made a key three-pointer and had a timely steal to cap a 7-0 run that made it 66-59. Then Fernandez scored a layup before feeding Alberto Diaz for a corner three that sealed the win and first place.