Group C has a new contender to reckon with after Ulker registered its third straight victory - two of them on the road - by manhandling Tau Ceramica 71-81 in Vitoria, Spain on Wednesday. Ulker never trailed after the game's first basket and dictated the pace throughout to raise its record to 4-3, good for a second-place tie at the halfway point in the regular season. Tau, meanwhile, fell to 3-4 with its fourth defeat in five games. Serkan Erdogan was the scoring ace for Ulker with 27 points, while Kerem Gonlum ruled the inside for a double-double of 13 points and 14 rebounds. Kerem Tunceri marked the tempo throughout and finished with 12 points, while Saulius Stombergas added 10 against his old team. Tau, which missed injured scorer Arvydas Macijauskas, got a team-high 21 points from Jose Manuel Calderon. Travis Hansen and Robert Conley added 10 each, while Tiago Splitter pulled 10 rebounds.
Calderon opened fire with a six-meter jumper to put Tau on the scoreboard, but Ulker needed only 2 minutes to take its first significant lead, 4-7. It was clear that the pace of the game was going to be slow, to Ulker's liking. Kerem Gonlum's acrobatic basket gave the visitors a 7-13 edge after 5 minutes, as Tau struggled against Ulker's solid defense. Tau's offense was based on outside shooting, but that was not enough to reduce the gap as Ulker kept a comfortable margin at 11-18 after 7 minutes. Calderon's first three-pointer of the night got TAU closer at 16-20, as Ulker suddenly stopped scoring. One more point by Calderon and two more by Erdogan closed the period with a 17-22 edge for Ulker.
Tunceri hit a jumper early in the second quarter to extend Ulker's lead to 17-24. Tau answered with a 5-0 run behind baskets by Conley and Andrew Betts, but Dion Glover quickly got back a 22-27 margin for Ulker with 3 points in a row. Defenses prevailed over offenses through the middle of the quarter. Nobody was able to score and both teams controlled their own backboards. After a Tau timeout, it was Ulker who took charge as Stombergas scored on a driving layup and Zukauskas added a basket for the first double-digit lead, 24-34, after 18 minutes. The situation got worst for Tau as Ulker clamped on a zone defense, knowing that Tau's shooters were off. A lonesome three by Calderon was quickly answered by Erdogan's bomb, enough for Ulker to retain its double-digit edge, 27-39, at halftime.
Little changed after intermission. Tau's only good news was the bad news of Ulker, third and fourth fouls that sent Zukauskas to the bench after 23 minutes, with his team still ahead 32-43. Tau's defense improved with Travis Hansen and Tiago Splitter, but the hosts still struggled to score as Ulker still was up13 points midway through the third quarter. Erdogan and Glover boosted that lead 34-52 as Tau looked nervous. Tau tried another timeout, but Tunceri controlled the pace of the game just as Ulker had planned. Tau couldn't find its way to the basket even from the foul line, while Ulker was content to play calmly, extending the gap with every attack until free throws by Tunceri left the guests in full command, 39-58, after 30 minutes.
Although everything seemed to be over, Tau started the final quarter at full throttle with a 5-0 run highlighted by Hansen three-pointer to reduce the gap to 44-58 after 32 minutes. Although the crowd went on fire, Ulker stayed calm as Erdogan nailed a monster three-pointer that gave the guests a 46-65 lead after 34 minutes. Tau did everything it could, pressing full court, but nothing worked against Ulker smart game. With two playmakers together on court, Ulker lasted well until a series of mistakes let Tau make an 11-0 run that cut the difference to its lowest in some time, 66-72 with 2 minutes left. To complete their fabulous game, however, Erdogan and Gonlum restored a 10-point lead for Ulker after 39 minutes, and that ended Tau's rally attempt. Ulker was assured a new status after its third consecutive victory, and second on the road, in Group C.
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Natxo Mendaza, Vitoria