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Unicaja's season-defining week gets off to a losing start

Omic sees his path blocked by a Valencia defender on a frustrating night for Unicaja.
Omic sees his path blocked by a Valencia defender on a frustrating night for Unicaja. / Carla Cortés
  • The Malaga side suffered an 81-77 defeat to Valencia in the first of three consecutive games between the two sides in a week, with two EuroCup legs between the teams still to be played

Joan Plaza's Unicaja saw their crucial week begin with defeat in their league match against Valencia on Saturday evening.

The two teams will now face each other twice in the EuroCup final, with the first of the two-match affair taking place in Valencia on Tuesday evening, before Joan Plaza's side welcome their opponents to Malaga on Friday evening. If needed, the deciding game will be held on Wednesday 5th April.

Unicaja nonetheless demonstrated that they could compete with their opponents, although Nemanja Nedović is now a major doubt for the European clashes this week after sustaining an ankle injury. This has added to Plaza's problems, who is already without Dejan Musli, with the Serbian also expected to miss both the fixtures this week.

Valencia began the game in a very disciplined manner, and managed to combine extremely well. Unicaja felt Musli's absence as a result, as they were unable to counteract the threat posed by Montenegro's Bojan Dubljević, who dominated the first quarter with his ruthless finishing and put the hosts into a 15-10 lead at the end of the quarter.

Oliver Lafayette, who has seen very little action in recent weeks, scored two three-pointers at the beginning of the second quarter to draw Unicaja level at 20-20, before further baskets from Nedović put the visitors 39-31 ahead. However, errors from the Unicaja defence and three-point baskets from Belgian Sam Van Rossom reduced the deficit to just one point, with Unicaja leading 43-42 at half time.

Viny Okouo showed his worth to Plaza at the start of the third quarter, with his baskets keeping the Malaga side in the contest in a very even game. However, the dynamic of the game changed when Valencia once again called on the services on Dubljević, who had been taken off after the first quarter, as one of the three substitutes.

Valencia's changes had an immediate impact, as they led the hosts to score seven points without reply, although they were unable to break clear largely down to the baskets of Nedović, with the third quarter ending 64-60 to Valencia.

An extremely motivated Nedović continued from where he had left off, with his six points putting Unicaja into a 66-64 lead. Unfortunately for the visitors, Nedović's injury soon after, combined with Plaza's decision to leave Alen Omić on the bench for the final few minutes left a rather unusual quintet on the field, which ultimately proved to be their downfall as a continual loss of possession saw Valencia come storming back to seal victory.