Tau Ceramica managed to clinch second place of Group B on Thursday by defeating Unicaja Malaga 79-63. With the win, Tau runs over Union Olimpija, who lost against Panathinaikos in Greece, as both teams tied on 9-5, but Tau prevails due to a 2-0 in the direct duels. Unicaja could have finished third had it won, but instead stayed fourth, at 7-7, owning a tiebreak advantage over Maccabi, which finished with the same record. Elmer Bennett was decisive with his 12 assists to give a new face to Tau: fast, fun, attractive and efficient. The best scorers for Tau were Luis Scola with 26 points, Andres Nocioni with 12 and Sergi Vidal with 11. For the guests, only Roger Esteller with 13 points and Ademola Okulaja with 10, scored in double digits.
Not everything that starts well ends well, mostly in basketball, where a 0-6 initial advantage means nothing. That's how Unicaja started in Vitoria, but it didn't take Tau too long to show its reaction, led by a fast Bennett, welcomed back by his fans with a big ovation. Bennett sank a three-point for 9-10, and later allowed his team to take the lead for the first time at 13-12 after Leo Palladino's jumper. The first quarter ended 18-18.
Already in the second period though, Tau broke the balance reigning on the court. It was an atypical game without true centers, since Unicaja had Frederic Weis injured, while coach Boza Maljkovic left Chuck Kornegay on the bench to give minutes to youngster Fran Vazquez, and also used Ademola Okulaja and Adam Wojcik. On the other side, without Rashard Griffith, Tau also played without a classic center. Instead, Tau had three power forwards - Scola, Nocioni, Lewis Sims - and some great perimeter defense from Laurent Foirest and Sergi Vidal. Most of all, there was the solid leadership from Bennett, who made the hosts move faster and better. The connection between Scola and Bennett worked smoothly, as Tau started to pull away from 31-24 to 43-32 at halftime.
The second half was an easy deal for Tau, who only had to cruise to the final win. Maljkovic tried to change things by putting Kornegay on court, but it was too late. Not even Sims's fifth foul could change the direction of the game. Only Roger Esteller stood steady for Unicaja, but his contribution was not enough for the visitors, who were trailingg at the end of the third quarter by 61-46. In the last quarter, both teams decreased their rhythm, and the fans enjoyed the game of a team, Tau, that starts to give some hints of being the feared team of last season again.
Thursday, February 13, 2003