Tau Ceramica clinched a spot in the Top 16 on Wednesday night with another big win over RheinEnergie Cologne. Igor Rakocevic led five Tau players in double figures with 22 points in a 97-68 win at the Fernando Buesa Arena in Vitoris, Spain. Tau beat RheinEnergie 70-102 when they met earlier this season in Germany. The visitors remained close for the first few minutes, but Luis Scola and Rakocevic keyed a 14-0 run to finish the first quarter at 24-12 and Tau never looked back. The hosts led 50-31 at halftime and coasted through the second half, winning their ninth straight and improving to 9-1 this season. RheinEnergie dropped to 2-8 and last place in Group A. Zoran Planinic finished with 18, Scola added 17, Pablo Prigioni had 14 points, 4 assists and 4 steals and Tiago Splitter 10. Immanuel McElroy led RheinEnergie with 15, Ronnie Burrell and Devin Green – in his debut – scored 13 each, Marcin Gortat added 11 points and 8 rebounds and Mladen Sljivancanin finished with 10.
The visitors surprised the home team with an early 0-5 run on an opening basket by McElroy and a huge three pointer from Sljivancanin. Just as coach Velimir Perasovic feared, Tau started cold and slow, allowing the German champs to extend the lead to 2-8 after 3 minutes. Although the hosts tried to push harder, especially on defense, things didn’t start to work fine until captain Scola took the court midway through the first period. A short jumper from the All-Euroleague forward brought Tau within 10-12. Rakocevic then capped the comeback with a four-point play to give the hosts their first lead at 14-12 with 2 minutes to go. RheinEnergie's machinery stopped working completely at that point, allowing Tau to extend the run and the lead. Boosted by the duo of Rakocevic and Scola, Tau reached the end of the first period with a comfortable 24-12 margin.
Although Gortat showed up quite focused for the second period, RheinEnergie continued to struggle on offense, due to poor shooting and several turnovers. Although the hosts were not excelling either, they found the way to increase the lead to 34-17 midway through the second period. RheinEnergie seemed to miss point guard Demond Mallet too much because neither Sljivancanin nor Johannes Strasser was able to build anything worthy on offense. McElroy came to the rescue with 5 straight points to make it 34-22, but Prigioni answered him pretty quickly with a three-pointer and a fastbreak of his own to keep the hosts calm. The playmaker decided it was time for his own show and nailed another two three-pointers at the end of the quarter to boost Tau’s margin to 50-31 at halftime.
RheinEnergie came out for the second half less erratic than in the first half and managed to score on its first three trips downcourt, but that didn’t allow them to get closer to Tau, which was also very successful at shooting thanks to the visitors’ soft defense. With both teams exchanging baskets, the differences remained stable. Rakocevic gave Tau its first 20-point lead on a three-pointerr, 63-42, midway through the third period, which was followed by another triple one minute later. The hosts didn’t stop there, as the crowd was demanding more and more from its players. Mirza Teletovic and Kaya Peker joined the party and combined for 5 points in a row to force RheinEnergie to call timeout with a minute remaining and trailing 75-47. The break didn’t change anything, as Tau reached its first 30-point lead at the end of the third quarter, 80-49.
Sljivancanin opened fire with a nice layup and McElroy followed him with a bank shot to reduce the difference early in the last period, but Planinic answered quickly with his first three pointer of the night to keep the 30-point margin for the hosts. Green seemed to wake up at that point with 4 points in a row to make it 85-59, but it was nothing but an illusion. Tau lost the grip for a while, committing too many shooting mistakes due to bad selection, but it wasn’t enough to put the big advantage in danger. Garbage time ensued with reserves like Jesus Cilla and Ariel Eslava on court. Although Tau wasn't able to reach 100 points, the outcome was enough to become the first team in Group A to get the qualification for the Top 16.
Wednesday, January 3, 2007