Tau Ceramica put a brilliant end to a perfect Top 16 by beating Elan Bearnais Pau-Orthez 93-75 at home in Vitoria, Spain on Thursday. With its 6-0 record in Group D, Tau joined defending champion CSKA, which won also on Thursday, as just the third and fourth teams all decade to finish the Top 16 undefeated. Tau will now face Olympiacos in the best-of-three Quarterfinal Playoffs that start on April 3 in Vitoria, Spain. Game 2 will be in Piraeus, Greece, two nights later, April 5, and the third game, if necessary, back in Vitoria on April 12. Meanwhile, Pau finished with a 1-5 record in its first Top 16 appearance since 2004. Thursday's game was controlled by Tau from it's 13-2 start to the finish. Kaya Peker had 16 points for the winners, Sergi Vidal and Tiago Splitter 14 each, Serkan Erdogan 13 and Igor Rakocevic 12. For Pau, Cedric Ferchaud had 15 points and Melvin Sanders 14, while veteran Frederic Fauthoux said goodbye to the competition after 17 years with his club by hitting a buzzer-beating triple to end the game.
With the goal of extending its record Euroleague home winning streak, Tau took the game as seriously, starting with consecutive three-pointers by Igor Rakocevic and Sergi Vidal in the first minute. Splitter then came into the picture and after only 3 minutes, Tau had its first double-digit margin, 13-2. Tau put a lot of pressure on the ball and the passing lnes as Pau struggled to find open shots. Zoran Planinic, taking advantage of Pablo Prigioni's absence, put on his own show then, pushing Tau to a 24-9 lead with a three-pointer that broke the zone defense with which Pau had hoped to slow the hosts. It didn't work, as the hosts kept rocking with another triple by Serkan Erdgoan and a monster dunk by Splitter while rolling up a 29-11 advantage after 10 minutes.
The scenario didn't change in the second quarter, as Tau's Turkish connection of Erdogan and Kaya Peker combined to boost the lead into 20-point territory at 32-11. Pau found only Ferchaud on offense, while another Turk for Tau, Ender Arslan, joined his countrymen in increasing the difference to 40-15 midway through the second period. Until then, the guests were unable to string together any points, which was the main reason that they couldn't reduce the 20-point gap. Now, however, Ludovic Vaty scored a layup and Ferchaud dropped a triple that allowed the guests to pull within 45-27 after 17 minutes. Tau relaxed them, scoring only 2 points in the following minutes, but Pau's shooters failed to take advantage of the opportunity. Aaron Miles and Xane D'Almedia were the only ones able to score down the stretch to force a 47-32 score at halftime.
With Planinic directing the attack, Luis Scola and Peker combined for 6 unanswered points to restore Tau's offense after the break. Ferchaud, with back-to-back triples, came to the rescue for Pau to make it 58-43 after 25 minutes. Pau's reaction had no continuity, however, as Peker hit twice from the free throw line, Planinic followed him with a layup, while Erdogan scored from downtown to cap a 7-2 run that put Tau up 65-45 after 27 minutes. Pau was unable to control the boards, an in attempts to stop Tau's inside game, employed Thierry Rupert and Britton Johnsen as big men in a small lineup. Nothing worked as Tau needed little effort to reach the end of the third quarter with a 71-47 lead and the outcome almost beyond doubt.
Pau seemed ready to react just the fourth period started, as Ferchaud, Melvin Sanders and Rupert sparked a 0-7 run that reduced the gap to 71-54 in just a minute. Tau remained scoreless until Rakocevic hit a jumper that was followed by an inside basket by Splitter to finish all suspense. The game soon turned into a great opportunity for creative players, as both defenses relaxed. Planinic and Sergi Vidal took advantage for Tau, while Sanders did the same for Pau. Visiting coach Gordon Herbert used the remaining minutes to give time to promising bench players like Vaty and Alexis Ajinca, whose size had a good impact in the paint for Pau. With Tau in clear dominance, the crowd was happy, and surely the fans of Pau were, too, as retiring legend Fauthoux ended the Euroleague portion of his career by hitting a buzzer beater to end the game at 93-75.
Thursday, March 22, 2007