AEK arrived Wednesday in Vitoria, Spain, the home of Tau Ceramica, as the solid leader of Group D. It is leaving as just another contender among six after last year's Euroleague runners-up registered a solid 20-point victory, 82-62, that could prove key as this race continues. Tau improved to 6-4 to join a four-way tie for second place in the group even as it pulled AEK down a step to 7-3. Nobody would have expected such an easy result for Tau, but an amazingly well-played third quarter sealed the result early. Luis Scola led the winners with 26 points, while Laurent Foirest added 15 and Sergi Vidal and Dejan Tomasevic contributed 11 each. For AEK, Demos Dikoudis and John Holden had 11 each and Nikos Zisis added 10.
The first period started with AEK going ahead 0-6 while Tau looked unsure of how to react until Sergi Vidal broke the spell with an easy layup. From there, the game entered a poor-scoring phase which wasn't broken until three minutes later with a dunk by Betts (2-8) that was the call for both teams to get back into the game. AEK was always in the lead by 4 to 6 points until Dikoudis was called for his third foul with 2 minutes to go. That's when Tau managed to gain conrtol and arrive at the end of the period with a tie score, 15-15.
The first lead for Tau came at the beginning of the second quarter, and the hosts refused to let it go in those 10 minutes. Thanks to a three-pointer by Foirest, Tau built a five-point advantage (20-15) even though both teams presented poor numbers in two-point shooting, 6 of 18 for the hosts and 5 of 14 for the guests. Without injured Elmer Bennett, Tau was driven by Chris Corchiani, who got his team into a quicker pace as the quarter advanced for a 22-20 partial score, and a two-point lead for the Spaniards at the break, 37-35.
The third quarter of the game was the most important since Tau completely turned the game upside down under Vidal, who replaced Corchiani. He led an 11-0 run for the hosts as four straight free throws by Tomasevic and a three-pointer by Foirest added up to a 48-38 lead that flattened AEK. The time out called by head coach Dragan Sakota didn't help AEK at all as Tau pulled away strongly after constant turnovers by the guests (totalling 13). Most of those ended back in the visitors' basket, largely thanks to Scola, until Tau hit a maximum lead of 22, 67-45, to end of the third.
The last quarter was no more than a formality with Tau not showing its best efforts to try to pull away further, and AEK having left all its will to win in the bench after the end of the third quarter. AEK managed to cut down the deficit by four or five points, but Tau reacted quickly and got its lead back again and again. The Spanish team maintains its options to qualify for the Top 16 with this win, still with the recently signed Gabriel Fernandez waiting to make his debut, probably next weekend in the Spanish League while the Greeks stand atop the group still, though a step closer to the crowd below.
Wednesday, January 9, 2002