Tau Ceramica made its last-ditch bid to rejoin the race in Group F by blasting one of last year's Final Four teams, Virtus Bologna, 93-73 in Vitoria, Spain on Wednesday. Tau improved to 1-2 to take third place in the group with three games remaining. Virtus fell to 0-3 and will need a miracle in order to survive now. Luis Scola led the way for the winners with 20 points, Ruben Wolkowysky added 12, Elmer Bennett 11 and Andres Nocioni bagged 10. Rashard Griffith, who returned after more than a month out due to foot injury, played 11 minutes and added 8 points. For the guests, Dejan Koturovic led the way with his 23 points and David Brkic added 15, but the Tau defense shut down the Virtus guards, holding Charlie Bell to 7 points over 35 minutes in his first game since being injured last fall.
The game started with Tau putting its complete roster in uniform the first time in the season, while at the same time Virtus had travelled without several injured players to Vitoria. Despite that fact, Virtus knew how to contain Tau in the early minutes of the game, and even took the lead for awhile. With effective play from Koturovic and Brkic's athletic qualities, the guests were ahead in minute 5, 14-15. From that moment, and thanks to Jose Manuel Calderon's leadership, Tau took control of the score and the game, even though the hosts were only ahead by 28-25 at the end of 10 minutes.
The doubts that hovered around the hosts vanished in the second quarter, in which coach Dusko Ivanovic started to play with Bennett, Leo Palladino, Laurent Foirest, Thierry Gadou and Griffith, trying to look for a tougher defense and more patience on offense. But Virtus had arrived in Vitoria to struggle, and that's what it did indeed, thanks to Koturovic, Brkic and young Marco Belinelli, who played at a great level also. All in all, in the last minutes of the second quarter, Tau Ceramica already hinted what was about to happen later, and pulled away, 48-39 at halftime.
The third quarter was decisive, as the hosts came out of the lockerroom as an avalanche and soon broke all the Italian resistance, making it clear that with a full roster, Tau is a very difficult team to beat, even with its less regular players on court. Bennett's speed, together with Wolkowysky's offensive capacity and Sergi Vidal's contribution, broke the game open and offered some spectacular plays for the fans at the Buesa Arena. After 30 minutes the score was 72-47 and the outcome clear. The last quarter was a mere formality, in which Tau maintained the lead consistently above 20 points. The result confirmed the superiority of the Spaniards in their first home game of the Top 16, and gave the fans in Vitoria hope that there will be more crucial games for them to see before Group F's candidate for the Final Four is decided.
Wednesday, March 19, 2003
Igor Marin Ochoa, Vitoria