Unicaja blew out Virtus Roma 104-83
Unicaja thrashed Virtus Roma 104-83 in Malaga on Wednesday night as team captain Berni Rodriguez shined with a career performance. Rodriguez recorded 24 points and 10 assists – both Euroleague career bests – and Uros Tripkovic stood out with 21 points off the bench on 5-of-6 three-point shooting as Unicaja bounced back from back-to-back defeats with a strong win. Unicaja was masterful from three-point territory, won the assist battle 24-4 and outrebounded Roma 44-26. Unicaja, which is now 2-2 and visits Brose Baskets next week, also got 12 points from Joel Freeland and 10 each from Robert Archibald and Saul Blanco. Jacopo Giachetti scored a Euroleague best 20 points to lead Roma, which hosts Olympiacos next week. Darius Washington added 15 for Roma, and Nihad Djedjovic and Vladimir Dasic contributed 10 each, but 15 unanswered points from Unicaja in the second quarter proved to much of a load by the end for the visitors.
Unicaja head coach Aito Reneses was without point guard Terrell McIntyre for the contest and Panchi Barrera started at the playmaker position instead of promising youngster Rafa Freire. The veteran hand was steady early on, as Unicaja established a low post presence with Georgios Printezis and kept Virtus on its heels defensively as the hosts jumped to a 7-2 start. Freeland dominated the boards with 4 first quarter rebounds for Unicaja and the hosts’ lock-down defense limited Roma’s half court options. Looking to change the tempo and the score, Washington started harassing Barrera and forced a couple of transitions baskets off turnovers, even as Freire entered the game five minutes in. Soon enough, Virtus Roma was back in within 9-8 and forcing Garcia Reneses into his first timeout. Dasic and Andrea Crosariol were the ones picking up the slack for the visiting side by the end of the quarter, but Washington was having a hard time containing Freire’s pressure at both ends. The first quarter ended with a 17-16 advantage for Unicaja and two spectacular dunks for the highlight reel: the first, a powerful drive by Archibald for a 17-12 score; the second, a gorgeous behind the back breakaway slam by Dasic that left the minimal difference in the scoreboard.
The tone was set and kept at the beginning of the second quarter, as Freire had another monster dunk off a spirited drive to the basket. It seemed Virtus had caught on and sealed the lane only so see Rodriguez take full advantage from the arc, drilling two straight triples to make it 25-21 for Unicaja. Still, the visitors kept aware and Charles Smith made a statement with a spectacular block of an Archibald layup attempt. He was equally adept at attacking the other basket too, as a driving layup from him kept Roma within 28-25. Determined not to let the game slip away, the hosts made up for their misses by crashing the offensive glass with abandon and capitalized on their second-chance possessions, as Berni swished his fourth triple of the quarter to make it 34-25. It soon was a 16-4 run after a Tripkovic layup and a couple of free throws by Freeland, but Garcia Reneses’s men kept their foot on the pedal until their maximum cushion was reached: 43-25 entering the break, courtesy of a closing Tripkovic triple and 15 unanswered points.
Virtus needed some kind of a reaction and quickly tried to get back in it coming out of the gates with a 3-7 run that made it 46-32 thanks to 5 points by a resilient Giacheti. But Rodriguez did not seem to have cooled off during the break, as he hit his fifth three-pointer of the night and gave Malaga its maximum cushion, 54-34, up until then. The three for all became a tough mountain to climb for the visitors after another bomb by Tripkovic made it 62-41. Even as a determined Giacheti drove to basket and forced three-point plays, the difference never was closer than 14 points as Unicaja finished the quarter in style again, with a beautiful feed from Barrera to Freeland on a text book alley-oop.
Barrera was not quite as good to start the fourth, losing the inbounds play to a bullish Luca Vitali, who tried to inject new life into his team on the following layup. Signs of resilience were found throughout the visiting lineup, as Washington tried to offset his bad shooting night with fearless penetration, but Garcia Reneses’s side was playing with a comfort zone and feeling the hot hand until the end, as Tripkovic joined Rodriguez’s bomb fest with 5 threes of his own to make it 85-66. All that was left to know at that point was if Rodriguez would reach his career high and he surpassed his mark with his 24th point of the night. Of course, it was a three-pointer. A dagger following a Saul Blanco triple right after Virtus had clawed itself back to a respectable 12-point deficit. The Rodriguez bucket for the 93-75 score with three minutes left to play was the nail in the coffin, although he did assist Blanco on an alley-oop dunk on the last minute of the game for more of an emphatic effect. With the added foul, it became a maximum difference of 102-79 and, in the end, it was a final score of 104-83, with new life for Unicaja and lingering questions for Virtus Roma.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010