Long Walk to Freeland: Unicaja Ignores Their Star Until It’s Too Late

By: Nick Gibson, Sam Meyerkopf and Rob Scott

Sevilla jumped out to a 12 point halftime lead by outworking Unicaja and playing much smarter basketball. The game seemed to be winding down to a lame ending, but a 10-0 run by Unicaja in the final quarter helped cut a 17 point lead to just four.

Sevilla nearly gave their fans a heart attack, but Unicaja couldn’t quite complete what would have been one hell of a turnaround. In the first half, Earl Calloway—who finished with a game-high 16 points and five steals—found a lane to the rim as wide as the Avinguda Diagonal, and it was still open for Tomas Satoransky in the second. The Czech draft prospect played smart, aggressive basketball, helping his team to that 36-28 halftime lead.

Banca Civica grabbed nine offensive boards before halftime and fiercely protected their own rim. Jorge Garbajosa sank a  four-point play early in the third, but Banca Civica re-upped on the momentum they built in the first half, Calloway and Tepic finishing strong on the break after more turnovers from Unicaja.

Midway through the fourth period, as the numerous Baskonia fans rocked the arena with their ‘Fuenla’ chant anticipating the next game, everything changed. Suddenly, Unicaja started clicking and embarked on a 10-0 run to force their way back into a  game which looked dead only moments earlier. Freeland beasted on the offensive glass, refusing to give in easily, grabbing the board and going back up strong. He layed in a lob on the break, Banca Civica went cold. Valters dashed in for an open layup, the lead was only four points. When they needed it most, Davis, Urtasun and Tepic kept their heads and hit backbreakers, and Unicaja’s brave comeback fell just short.

Why Banca Civica Sevilla Won

Sloppy, messy, up and down; this game was anything but clean. Banca Civica Sevilla took everything in stride and when they needed to make a big play, they did.  Unicaja was a complete wreck until about midway through the fourth quarter, and Sevilla took advantage.  They moved the ball around beautifully and took shots when Unicaja was at their most unorganized points.

If Sevilla missed a shot, they attacked the offensive glass and looked for a second chance opportunity.  If Unicaja took the ball to the rim (which they did rarely), then there were Sevilla’s bigs, collapsing on them immediately.  Then the five-minute mark of the fourth quarter hit.

Unicaja started playing with fire and Kristaps Valters was finally showing some real harmony on the pick and roll with Joel Freeland.  Unicaja came running back from down 14 to down 4, but Sevilla stayed resilient.  After looking rushed and out of sorts for a few minutes, they calmed down and started working for better shots once again.  This game was a moment or two away from being a blowout Sevilla win, but they slipped up briefly and it took away slightly from a great team effort all the way around.

Why Unicaja Lost

When a team’s star lies dormant for three quarters, fans get irritated. Members of the media start to shuffle in their seats.  But in the case of Joel Freeland, who’s really to blame?

For me, the answer is three-fold. First of all, Chus Mateo’s system is senseless. To stick Joel Freeland in a corner and wait for the ball to find him is to voluntarily neuter your own offense.

Even in a flawed system, an effective point guard should be able to make a player of Freeland’s caliber a factor without breaking a sweat.  Unfortunately, Gerald Fitch and Kristaps Valters put themselves at the top of the food chain while stars like Freeland and, to a lesser extent, Luka Zoric, go hungry.

Fitch and Valters are good players, but not good point guards.

Lastly, Freeland himself is to blame.  If he defies Chus Mateo, so what?  He’s Joel Freeland.  Any spat between the two and I have a sneaking suspicion that management would side with their star. Besides, Mateo  couldn’t get angry for Freeland for camping out on the block and throwing his hand up every once in a while. It’s a change that needs to happen.

Nobody is without guilt. They are all, however, very much without a win.

Star Who Sucked

Luka Zoric finishd with two points and three rebounds in 18 minutes, not good enough for a player who has shown, albeit irregularly, in the Euroleague what he can do against elite competition. With Freeland struggling until the fourth quarter, Unicaja needed Zoric to fill that gap inside, and he didn’t step up.

Sucker Who Starred

Back in 2009, Milenko Tepic was building his résumé as a possible first round draft pick.  That summer he was auctioned off to Panathinaikos, and has slept walk his way through the past three seasons.  Tonight for Sevilla, Tepic finally woke up.

Not that he tore it up—he didn’t, only tallying five points and five rebounds in 25 minutes—but his hustle matched that of his teammate Earl Calloway as he disrupted passing lanes and looked confident when the ball made its way to his hands. We haven’t been able to say either of those things for quite some time now.

Then, as Sevilla allowed Unicaja to leak back into the game, it was Tepic who stepped up and nailed a three to extinguish any hopes Malaga had of ruining Sevilla’s perfect evening.  Let’s see if he can keep his lids open long enough to make an impact in the semifinals. History says he won’t.

Prospect Watch

Tomas Satoransky  |  G  |  Banca Civica Sevilla

Satoransky played a key role in a backup role for Sevilla.  He didn’t attack all the time, but when he did he did it forcefully and with a purpose.   He should have had a few more assists had teammates finished off his drive and dump-offs, but Satoransky played his part well.  During his 15 minutes of action he played mostly point guard and mostly mistake free basketball, turning it over just once.

After the game, he told us he loves playing uptempo basketball. If Real Madrid makes it to the semifinals, he’ll get his wish, and scouts aplenty will be looking on intently.

Alex Abrines  |  G  |  Unicaja

Abrines only played in one minute of action, the last one of the first half, but he made his presence felt.  My lasting image of him will be a quick drive move he made from the left, right into the teeth of the interior defense and then bulleted a pass out for a open Unicaja three. (A Unicaja guard out to make plays for others; who knew such things were possible?)  It was one brief moment, but it left me craving for more of them.

Augusto Cesar Lima  |  PF  |  Unicaja

Didn’t play, so his rebounding expertise will have to wait until Unicaja’s next ACB match.

Even On Their Day Off, Baskonia’s The Life of the Party

Early the final quarter, as the Sevilla lead was 17 and the game appeared to be fizzling out, the ranks of Caja Laboral fans on their off-day rose to an enormous chant of  ’FUENLA!’ in support of Real Madrid’s next opponents. The game that was still going on quickly got interesting, but the atmosphere kicked up a couple notches after that point, which continued into the next game.

Dumb Headline Pun(s) We Almost Used

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Where There’s A Will There’s A Calloway: Sevilla Steals a ‘W’