Tau Ceramica cruised to an 89-74 win over Union Olimpija on Thursday night at Fernando Buesa Arena in Vitoria, Spain, that returned the club to pole position in the fight for second place in Group A. Tau was one of only two teams of the four that were tied for second place in the group entering the evening to record a win. Tau improved to 8-4 this season and 5-1 at home. Meanwhile Olimpija lost for the fifth straight game, dropping to 3-9 in the standings, as its slim hopes of reaching the Top 16 suffered another blow. The game was close for much of the first period, but Tau outscored Olimpija 27-12 in the second period to wrap up the win. Mirza Teletovic led the way with 18 points, Tiago Splitter added 15, Igor Rakocevic 11 and Zoran Planinic 10, while Pablo Prigioni shined with 6 points, 9 assists and 6 steals. Olimpija captain Marko Milic paced his team with 23 points, 10 rebounds and 4 steals, Boris Gorenc finished with 13 and Jasmin Hukic had 12.
Union Olimpija started strong in the early going, as Milic took advantage of a soft Tau defense to open fire with a nice dunk, which was followed by a pair of layups for a 2-6 Olimpija lead. Teletovic and Sergi Vidal came to the rescue, hitting a triple and two free throws, respectively, to give the hosts a 7-6 edge. But the joy didn’t last for long as the hosts were unable to find the right pace on offense. Tau played slow basketball and even though the visitors weren’t much better, they found Hukic and Gorenc to recover the lead, 7-11, midway through the first period. Olimpija was able to keep the lead although Teletovic hit from downtown to make it a one-point game, 15-16, with two minutes to go. A free throw by Goran Dragic was followed by a monster dunk by Will McDonald that tied the game at 17-17, but Milic scored an amazing basket-plus-foul after faking the shot several times and kept a short lead for Olimpija entering the last minute of the period. The answer came from the three-point line, as Prigioni and Simas Jasaitis sank a pair of triples that allowed Tau to get back. With 6 seconds to go, Prigioni stole the ball and fed Planinic, who drew the foul and hit twice from the line to give Tau a 25-21 lead.
Splitter saw action for the first time in the game at the start of the second period, and he need only 33 seconds to send Chris Booker to the bench with 2 personal fouls. The center kept rocking inside, drawing the third foul of Mirza Begic as well, hitting free throws and a layup for a 30-21 Tau lead. Hasan Rizvic ended the drought for the visitors with a tip-in and Ronnie Taylor scored a layup off a steal to keep Olimpija breathing. Head coach Aleksandar Dzikic decided to switch to zone defense, but Rakocevic broke it with a triple plus foul that raised the advantage to double-digits. Olimpija’s urgent timeout didn’t change things except for the defensive strategy of the visitors, as Tau kept scoring with ease. Gabe Muoneke scored 5 points in a row for a 43-29 lead. Tau didn’t let up and kept pushing, especially on defense, forcing several turnovers and unbalanced shots, that damaged Olimpija’s morale. It was time for showtime in offense also, as Splitter, Teletovic and Rakocevic combined for a 9-0 run in fast situations that sent the game to halftime with a comfortable cushion for the hosts, 52-33.
Milic started the third period the same way he did in the first one, breaking Tau’s defense twice with a spectacular two-handed dunk and a short jumper to bring Olimpija within 52-37. Tau experienced something similar a deja-vu, as it was unable to take control of the game in the first minutes of the period. Fortunately for the hosts, Olimpija’s shooters were not accurate enough to reduce the gap despite getting open shots. Thus, the Tau lead remained midway through the quarter, 57-43, as Tau head coach Neven Spahija decided to use Splitter again as a vaccine for his team’s disease. The star center gave some balance to his team, reinforcing Tau’s power inside at both ends. Teletovic and Vidal took advantage of this to increase the advantage to 65-47 after 18 minutes, showing that the Slovenians would need a miracle to come back. A three-point carnival started at that point, as both team exchanged baskets until the quarter finished with a clear lead for the hosts at 73-59.
Splitter and Jasaitis added points from the free-throw line to keep the visitors far away, as the whole team decided to increase activity in defense to prevent the visitors from dreaming. Splitter and Jasaitis combined for 6 points in a row and capped a 9-2 run in the first three minutes that raised a 20-point lead, 82-61, for the first time. A few seconds later, Planinic gave a game-high 23 points lead thanks to a layup, and that seemed to be the final blow for the visitors, whose only target turned into avoiding an embarrassing loss in Vitoria. With the outcome no longer in doubt, Tau used the last five minutes to save forces and took the game as a practice. The visitors exploited the situation to reduce the gap a bit, as the hosts’ offense struggled a bit due to the presence of non-conventional configuration. Spahija granted some Euroleague action to players like Lucho Fernandez and Ander Garcia. An acrobatic buzzer-beating layup by Taylor was the perfect finish for a game that ended with an 89-74 final score.
Thursday, January 17, 2008