Exclusive Group A leader Tau Ceramica showed it plans to stay that way as it thrashed visiting Benetton Treviso 91-73 in Vitoria, Spain on Wednesday. Tau improved to 9-3 and will have at least a one-victory lead in Group A with two regular season games left. Benetton dropped to 7-5 and will hope to hang onto a piece of second place for now. Casey Jacobsen had led the winners with a season-high 25 points while making 7 of 9 three-pointers. Luis Scola added 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting, Tiago Splitter posted a double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds while Serkan Erdogan scored 10 points for Tau. Petar Popovic led Benetton with 20 points and 9 rebounds while Andrea Bargnani and Drew Nicholas each had 13 for the guests, who trailed 27-17 after 10 minutes. Even when Bargnani and Nicholas brought Benetton back into the game, Splitter and a red-hot Jacobsen sealed the win in the final period.
Benetton came up big in the early going, taking a 6-10 lead after 4 minutes behind a couple of three-pointers by Matteo Soragna, back in Euroleague action after his injury. Even though Scola started strong, the guests managed to stop Tau's backcourt. It was Jacobsen, with a three, and Splitter, adding a free throw, who tied the game at 10-10 midway through the first quarter. Tau improved on defense thanks to Splitter's presence inside, and on offense as Jacobsen and Pablo Prigioni hit from the perimeter. Soon, the hosts had built a 25-16 margin while holding Benetton scoreless for 3 minutes. A free throw by Nicholas ended that drought, but Prigioni scored his own for a double-digit Tau lead, 27-17, after 10 minutes.
After Ramunas Siskauskas scored for Benetton to open the second quarter, the next 2 minutes were quiet. Uros Slokar broke the silence with a three-pointer, then an acrobatic layup by Marcus Goree got Benetton within 27-24. Tau reacted quickly, as Sergi Vidal's basket-plus-free throw returned a safe margin to the hosts. Although Roko-Leni Ukic and Splitter extended the lead to 33-25, Benetton didn't panic and rallied again to within 36-34 thanks to Popovic's effort in the paint. Benetton kept feeding Popovic looking for points inside or open spaces for their shooters on the perimeter. Benetton had the chance to tie the game, but wasted as many as four possessions to do it. Tau took advantage and escaped again on free throws by Ukic, a three-pointer by Jacobsen and Erdogan's quarter-ending basket to lead 43-36 at the half.
Tau showed up strong after the intermission, led by Prigioni, who scored the first basket then dished assists to David and Jacobsen for a layup and a three pointer respectively, that extended the lead to 50-36. Marco Mordente came out and put more defensive pressure on Prigioni while on Benetton's offensive end, Bargnani came to the rescue with 5 points in a row that made it 54-45. Benetton continued rallying thanks to Nicholas, who was unstoppable when driving and also hit a couple of jumper to reduce the gap to 58-53 after 28 minutes. Tau coach Velimir Perasovic calmed things down with a timeout, after which Scola and Erdogan combined for an all the points of an 8-3 in the last 60 seconds that regained a double-digit lead for Tau at 66-56.
The pace slowed to start the fourth quarter, as Scola and Nicholas were the only effective scorers. Tau wasn't having it easy, but its frontcourt was enough to prevent Benetton from coming back. The difference remained stable until Jacobsen took over for Scola and widened the margin to 16 points, 79-63, after a three-pointer and a right handed hook shot midway through the quarter. He didn't stop there, either, but downed a couple of free throws and a new bomb from downtown to raise the difference to 20 points. Even though Benetton had more than 4 minutes to try to react, Jacobsen's flurry took something out of the guests, who only chopped a couple points off the difference while Tau took a giant step toward clinching first place.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Natxo Mendaza, Vitoria