Tau Ceramica seized its first chance to reach the Top 16 from Group A with both hands on Wednesday when it stormed into Athens and took a blowout 60-87 road win from AEK. Besides qualifying to the next round, Tau improved to 8-3 and will at least keep its share of first place. It also dropped AEK a step closer to elimination at 3-8. The visitors made their intentions clear while storming to a 17-29 first-quarter lead. AEK came within 7 points of the lead shortly after halftime, but Tau rose up again and kept adding to the advantage the rest of the way. Casey Jacobsen covered for the absence of injured swingmen Travis Hansen by drilling 20 to lead Tau in scoring. The leader everywhere else was Luis Scola, with 14 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks. Tiago Splitter added 13 points and 9 rebounds while Kornel David scored 10 for the winners. Taylor Coppenrath had 20 points, Giannis Bouroussis 11 and Dror Hagag 10 for AEK, which was outrebounded 25-39 by Tau and made only 3 of 19 three-point attempts.
AEK got off to an energetic start thanks to 6 consecutive points by Coppenrath, then Michalis Pelekanos stole the ball and finished a fastbreak for an 8-4 lead after 2 minutes. Tau didn't wait long to react. Jacobsen stepped up and contributed 7 points to put Tau in front 10-13 midway through the quarter. AEK was now having trouble dictating the pace, as Tau was unstoppable on the fast break. Scola converted a three-point play in transition to trigger a 3-12 run that was capped when Jacobsen fired in a three-pointer. AEK was held without a basket for more than 3 minutes as Tau's lead soared to double digits, 13-26. Finally, Ioannis Kalampokis fed Bouroussis for an easy dunk, but Scola responded with another three-point play for a 17-29 Tau lead after 10 minutes.
AEK needed to slow down the tempo, but the second quarter got underway with Tau's momentum unchecked thanks to 6 points by a new go-to guy, Kornel David, who put the guests up 23-35 after 13 minutes. AEK could not find open shots from the perimeter and instead chose to hit Tau in the paint. Coppenrath trimmed the deficit to single digits, 27-36, with a layup that forced a Tau timeout. Even with Scola on the bench, however, last year's Euroleague finalists stayed firmly in charge, as a flurry of free throws by Predrag Drobnjak, Pablo Prigioni and Jacobsen made it 31-46. In the waning seconds of the half, Coppenrath kept punishing Tau's frontcourt and pulled AEK within 36-46 at the break.
The third quarter started with Coppenrath looking like a man on a mission, as he buried a triple to cut the lead to 39-46. In the next possessions, both teams embarked on a downtown shooting spree. Both Jacobsen and Serkan Erdogan connected from the arc, while Kalambokis also drained one to make it 46-53. However, the bombardment was not over. A pair of three-pointers by Prigioni and Vidal in addition to a thunderous Scola dunk on the break restored a 46-63 advantage for the guests. It was Scola, again, who made it 49-67 on a tough turnaround jumper after 30 minutes.
Tau missed its first five shots of the final quarter, but AEK failed to rally due to its own struggles on offense. AEK was empty of energy and it wasn't long before the Tau backcourt stepped up a gear. Jacobsen made his third triple of the night and triggered a 2-8 surge that boosted Tau's margin to 53-78 and put the game out of reach. Nothing changed down the stretch, as the formidable Spaniards cruised to an impressive 60-87 victory that sealed their qualification to the next round.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Danos Tsakalos, Athens