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EuroCup finalists Unicaja crash back to earth with league defeat

Nedovic attempts to pass to a teammate after slipping.
Nedovic attempts to pass to a teammate after slipping. / Ñito Salas
  • The 78-66 loss at home to Movistar Estudiantes came two days after Plaza's side booked their place in the EuroCup final

Unicaja suffered a European hangover on Sunday night as they suffered a home loss to Movistar Estudiantes in the league.

The defeat came after Joan Plaza's side reached the EuroCup final after a 74-63 victory over Lokomotiv Kuban two days previously, a triumph that will see the Malaga side compete in their third European final and the possibility of them winning their fourth title in their history.

Unicaja will find out their opponents in the final on Wednesday when Valencia face Hapoel Jerusalem, with the Israeli side having won the first encounter at home 79-66.

However, Unicaja's players faced reality again against the side from Madrid, as their stamina and energy levels seemed to be in short supply. Friday's exertions had clearly taken a lot out of the players, with the consequent lack of coordinated movement from the hosts palpable right from the off.

The visitors took advantage of Unicaja's fatigue and went 13-9 up within five minutes, before Plaza's side mounted a brief comeback to go into the second quarter trailing 17-16. Nevertheless, a constant loss of possession, lack of precision and general ineffective play returned in the following quarter, frailties which Ondřej Balvin and Edwin Jackson took advantage of, with the latter's 27 points going a long way to securing Movistar Estudiantes' win on the day.

Smith kept plugging away in an attempt to restore parity, but Balvin's excellent work in the centre of the court demonstrated why the Czech has attracted interest from Bayern Munich and Unicaja themselves in the past, while Frenchman Jackson's return to Malaga saw him scoring baskets at a canter and putting his side 37-28 ahead going into half time.

Unicaja seemed to regain some of the intensity that was on show against Lokomotiv Kuban, and they played with more clarity going forward at the start of the third quarter. This improvement saw the Malaga side come to within two points of the side from the capital as they managed to nullify the threat posed by Balvin. Unfortunately, a better attacking display did not induce a strong defensive game for the hosts, and they were duly punished by Estudiantes for most of the errors that they committed, which gave the visitors a 16-point lead over Unicaja at the beginning of the final quarter.

Plaza's side refused to give up and by scoring thirteen points while conceding just two, the game was set up for a potentially tight finish, with the score 68-64 to Estudiantes with just a few minutes remaining. Sadly, there was to be no thrilling comeback for the Malaga side, as a fine effort from Jackson, who was also well supported by Cook, confirmed the victory for the visiting side.