Tau Ceramica walked off with first place in Group A and the second-most victories in the entire Euroleague when it dispatched visiting Strasbourg by 80-54 at home in Vitoria, Spain on Thursday. Tau finished 11-3 to clinch a place in the first level of the upcoming Top 16 Draw, thereby avoiding the other group winners and best second-place team in the next round. Strasbourg finished its first Euroleague season with a 3-11 record after losing its last seven games. Kornel David led the winners with 22 points on 9-for-13 shooting, Travis Hansen added 19, Tiago Splitter 11 while Pablo Prigioni barely missed a triple-double with 10 points, 11 assists and 9 steals. Ondrej Starosta had 16 points for Strasbourg while Ricardo Greer and Crawford Palmer each added 10. Tau reached halftime with a 39-26 margin and boosted it to 61-36 to seal the win long before the final buzzer.
Even though Tau needed the win to secure first place in Group A, the hosts came out asleep, needing 2 minutes to hit their first shot from the floor. Strasbourg took advantage of that to take a small lead, 5-8, behind a good job inside by Ondrej Starosta, midway through the first period. Prigioni tied the game with a three-pointer, sparking a 7-0 run with fastbreak baskets by Scola and Splitter that shot Tau ahead 12-8. From there, the difference kept increasing as Strasbourg collapsed on offense, collecting only a couple of free throws by Giffa as the first quarter ended 21-10.
The second quarter started strangely, as Prigioni drew a flagrant foul on Stanley Jackson after only 2 seconds, with those free throws widening the gap to 23-10. David gave Tau a 15-point lead with a lauyp just before Crawford Palmer ended Strasbourg's drought with a jumpshot. Defenses prevailed over at both ends during the following minutes, and that helped Tau to keep a solid 14-point margin at 32-18 with 4 minutes to go in the quarter. Tau head coach Velimir Perasovic tried to increase the tempo with full-court pressure, but Strasbourg didn't find big trouble breaking it. Still, the score saw no big changes as Tau finished the half leading 39-26.
Hansen opened fire with a three-pointer right after the break to boost hosts' lead to 42-26. Even though Ricardo Greer answered with a fast break dunk and Scola committed his third foul, Tau proved unstoppable in the beginning of the quarter. Kornel David and Tiago Splitter took over to spark a 7-0 run that allowed TAU surpass the 20-point-lead mark for the first time at 49-28 after 23 minutes. Strasbourg was totally unable to fight against Tau's deffense, averaging less than a point per minute in the quarter. As such, the gap remained stable and Tau comfortably settled itself on a 20 point margin. Things got even worse for the guests after David and Splitter, again, pushed TAU to a 5-0 run to close the third period with hosts leading 61-36.
Prigioni and Sergi Vidal dunked off fastbreaks to raise Tau's lead to 65-38 after 31 minutes. Starosta took over for the guests and scored 7 points in a row to force a timeout midway through the quarter although Tau still led 65-45. Strasbourg kept rocking as Starosta got a basket-plus-free throw and Jeff Greer smashed the rim on a fastbreak to reduce the gap even more. Although the outcome was not in danger, Tau reacted quickly thanks to its best players tonight, David and Hansen, who returned a 20-points lead to the hosts, 72-52, with under 2 minutes left to assure first place in the group would not slip away.
Thursday, February 9, 2006