One dream came true and two others were dashed on Wednesday as Ural Great saved its Euroleague season and advanced to the Top 16 with a sturdy 94-88 home win over the hottest team in Europe, Group D leader Tau Ceramica, before 8,000 giddy fans in Perm, Russia. By qualifying for the fourth and final Top 16 berth in the group, Ural finished its season at 8-6 and rendered meaningless tomorrow's game between Adecco Asvel Baskets (7-6) and Partizan (6-7) in Belgrade. Ural would triumph in any tie, head-to-head or multiple, with Asvel because it won both of their games together. Though the game was neck-and-neck throughout, not even mighty Tau (9-5) could inflict its will on Ural in Perm. Tau was still within a single point, 89-88, with under three minutes left, but failed then on two consecutive possessions to even get a shot off against the Ural defense. Those two 24-second violations paid off for the home team when Sergei Panov went up and under Luis Scola for a layup. Panov, who finished with 16 points, added a free throw and leading scorer Valeri Daineko (19) added two more down the stretch to finish off the victory. Daineko had 14 of his points after Tau had taken a 48-49 halftime lead, but an explosive 32-29 third quarter put Ural ahead 80-78 at its end. The fourth quarter was all D, with Ural holding Tau to just 10 points. Only a mid-quarter three-pointer by Andres Nocioni (21 points) kept Tau in it after Ural had gone up five. Ural withstood a 32-21 rebounding advantage for Tau by making 9 of 21 three-pointers, including two each by Daineko, Anthony Bowie and Willie Burton. Now that it has survived, Ural can now finish between second and fourth, depending on the results of AEK and Scavolini on Thursday.
In the beginning of the game, Ural Great tried hard to prove that its recent spell of poor defense was going to be broken this time. The hosts managed to make a 9-2 run in the first 3 minutes. But a minute later, Ural Great faced the first complication of the game as center Mikhail Mikhailov was called for his third foul, all on Tomasevic. Perm head coach Sergei Belov began to rotate the lineup. Tau made consecutive offensive fouls and in the middle of the first period, Ural took its biggest lead so far, 16-8. In the last minutes of the quarter the hosts got a boost from Bashminov. After Panov missed a free throw, Bashminov took it off the boards and sent back in a buzzer-beater to establish a 28-21 lead after 10 minutes.
In the second period Ural Great continued to rotate players but none of them seemed to be ready to lead. Ruslan Avleev did not show his usual performance but scored several points from the free throw line and helped his team to keep on leading. The end of the second period and the beginning of the third was marked with a huge number of the three-pointers - 8 in just 8 minutes. At first the long distance shots helped Tau to take a 48-49 halftime lead. Most remarkable was that three players that weren't with Tau in the Euroleague finals last spring - Nocioni, Hugo Sconochini and Carlos Arroyo (who would finish with 13 points in 18 minutes) - led that second-quarter charge.
After the half, the long-distance luck was on Ural Great's side. Three-pointers helped the home team to jump ahead of Tau once again, 61-57. That quick cushion and a quick scoring page were good enought for Ural to ride into a one-basket lead, 80-78, after three quarters.
The last quarter started with four consecutive travelling violations (three of them by Ural) and both teams were scoreless for more than 3 minutes. Then Mikhailov entered the game after a 15-minutes break and with his help Panov and Karasev pulled Ural Great ahead 88-83. It took Tau 2 minutes to get back in the game. With 3:23 to go Corchiani scored the basket finishing a 5-1 run of his team. But it appeared to be the last succesfull attempt made by the guests. Indeed it would be there last points at all. First, Tau suffered those two 24-second violations, then Tomasevic made an offensive foul, then in the last minute Mikhailov and Bowie made steals.
Wednesday, February 13, 2002
Maria Kravtchenko, Russia