Unicaja, the 7DAYS EuroCup champion back in 2016-17, had reached the Top 16 in its three previous appearances in the competition, and the 2020-21 campaign is no exception. Unicaja ranked second in Group B with a 7-3 record, qualifying to the Top 16 well before the end of the regular season.
Unicaja opened the EuroCup season with a 96-88 home win against Boulogne Metropolitans 92. Six players scored in double digits, led by Tim Abromaitis and Francis Alonso with 14 points apiece. After a road loss against Mornar Bar, Unicaja went on to win its next three games, downing Buducnost VOLI Podgorica and Germani Brescia at home, and ratiopharm Ulm away. Though it avenged the Mornar loss when they met in Malaga to start another three-game win streak, Unicaja registered losses of 90-80 at Metropolitans and 90-94 at home to already-eliminated Ulm in the last game, preventing it from winning the group.
Shooting guard Francis Alonso, a EuroCup newcomer, is among the most pleasant surprises in the EuroCup this season. A Malaga native who grew up in Unicaja's youth system, Alonso played for UNC Greensboro in the United States and with Spanish sides Fuenlabrada and Oviedo before returning to his hometown. Taking almost everyone by surprise, Alonso is leading Unicaja in scoring with 14.8 points per game and ranks first among EuroCup players with 32 three-point shots made at an impressive rate of 48.5%.
Jaime Fernandez has been battling injuries for the better part of the last two seasons. In this one, he has taken part in just EuroCup games, averaging 3.3 points and 5.3 assists, but he ranked 15th in accumulated PIR in the EuroCup over the previous two seasons. A great one-on-one player and passer, Fernandez is the perfect complement to Alberto Diaz, the club's signature playmaker and the 2017 EuroCup Finals MVP, who has been injured lately, too. A healthy Fernandez should make Unicaja even harder to stop on offense in the Top 16.
Did you Know?
Unicaja currently leads the EuroCup in three-point shooting percentage, with its players having hit 122 of 290 attempts, or 42.1%, from beyond the arc. Unicaja also allows its opponents even better three-point accuracy (44.1%) but in less volume (94 for 213). Only two EuroCup teams ever shot better than this Unicaja team in 10 or more games: Valencia Basket in 2002-03 (45.4%) and UNICS Kazan in 2006-07 (45.3%). In other words, Unicaja is shooting great but must improve its three-point defense to get even better.
Unicaja is destined for Top 16 Group E, which has only one other team confirmed now, Nanterre 92. But the other two places are sure to be filled by either French and Spanish League teams, so it'll be a comfortable group in terms of logistics, with no long trips in the foreseeable future. Unicaja has been a consistently strong Top 16 opponent, especially at home, where it has a 7-2 record in the upcoming phase, with both of those losses coming against Valencia Basket, in 2017 and 2019. Last season, Unicaja was the second-best team in the Top 16, earning home-court advantage in at least two potential playoffs series that never happened. As an experienced team, Unicaja will aim for nothing less in this Top 16.