To say that Unicaja Malaga swiped the EuroCup crown from right underneath Valencia’s nose would be an understatement.
After trailing by as many as 13 points late on, Unicaja went on an 18-0 run in the final period to seal a memorable 63-58 win over a stunned Valencia in the deciding game three to not only lift the EuroCup but to punch their ticket into next season’s EuroLeague.
For Unicaja, it will feel like returning back to where they belong after competing in the EuroLeague for 15 straight seasons, going back to the 2001-02 campaign before the record was broken this season when they entered the EuroCup.
But in their first season in what is regarded European club basketball’s second tier competition, Unicaja Malaga showed that they belong in the EuroLeague and at the same time, ended an 16-year trophy drought.
Alberto Diaz paced Unicaja with 12 points and Jamar Smith added 10. Bojan Dubljevic paced Valencia with a game-high 16 points.
“For Malaga, it’s incredible,” said an ecstatic Unicaja coach Joan Plaza.
“For the club,  years without titles is so tough. And for me, it’s incredible to return in this way. I enjoy, but I understand that my way to understand basketball is absolutely good for the titled, good for the players, good for our club. I would like to dedicate this to my family, to all the people of Malaga, of Andalusia, of Spain. Everybody who enjoyed this with us, with me, thanks for all the help.”
It so nearly wasn’t to be though. Valencia, playing in front of a packed home crowd inside the Fuente de San Luis were, for three quarters, the better team. The hosts went on a 20-4 run in the second quarter thanks to strong play by the unstoppable Dubljevic.
The visitors though regrouped and finished the half on a 9-2 spurt to trail 33-30 at the break. Despite the strong finish to the second, you sensed Valencia would have the strength and the depth to pull away again and so they did. The hosts led 54-43 after the third and looked to ink their place into next season’s EuroLeague.
Valencia’s end product in the fourth was lazy, and at times nervous defending, which Unicaja took full advantage of. They held the home team to just four points, pulling away mid-way through and hanging on to win the EuroCup under the new umbrella, which proved to be a far bigger success this season, culminating in a finals that actually had meaning with the best-of-three format instead of the ridiculous two-legged affair.
“It was a tough, complicated game, just as we expected,” said Unicaja guard Diaz, who won the finals MVP honours.
“We lost control of the game in the third quarter, but in that moment, we were able to cool down and be ourselves. We believed in ourselves and our mentality, which brought us here. I want to thank my teammates, our staff, the club and the City of Malaga for their support. The game was as we expected, decided by small details. We wanted to have chances down the stretch and the win ended up being on our side. Thank you to our fans for being there.”