Aris’s prospects take a tough hit

Aris’s prospects in the Euroleague were set back in Spain late Wednesday night by a narrow 76-74 loss against Unicaja in a second-stage group game. The Thessaloniki basketball club, which has now lost both its second-stage games and sits at the bottom of Group G, is already in a do-or-die situation. Unicaja leads the group with a 2-0 record that gives it genuine hope for a place in the competition’s quarterfinals for the first time in the Malaga club’s history. The group’s two other contestants, Benetton Treviso and Dynamo Moscow, lie equal-second with 1-1 records. The top two teams from each of the Euroleague’s four second-stage groups, or Top 16, advance to the quarterfinals. Costas Vassiliadis led Unicaja with a Euroleague career-high of 16 points and seven rebounds. Alex Scales, Mike Wilkinson and Jeremiah Massey each scored 15 points for Aris and Dimitris Tsaldaris followed with 11. It was a tight game for the majority of play. The lead changed 13 times in the first half. Then Unicaja improved its defensive play to take a 64-52 lead with seven minutes of play remaining. But Massey and Scales brought the game within striking distance, at 71-67, with half a minute of play to go. But the hosts held on. It was an important win for Unicaja, which will play three of its four remaining second-stage group games away. Meanwhile, Athens club Panathinaikos, a standout performer in this season’s Euroleague with top spot in Group F, issued a formal announcement stating that it had reached a deal with star player Dimitris Diamantidis that extends his contract for an additional three years, reportedly worth -2 million in fees annually for the player. Diamantidis, a key player in Greece’s European title triumph in 2005 and last year’s silver medal at the Worlds, starred Wednesday night in Panathinaikos’s impressive 102-82 win over Barcelona in Athens. The result gives Panathinaikos a clear lead in the group. The Greek club’s boss, Pavlos Giannakopoulos, mentioned the news of the deal’s extension following Wednesday’s win, before yesterday’s formal announcement. «We’ve destroyed the plans of a certain few, but what can we do? That’s life. They’ll get over it,» noted part of the club’s statement.