Tau Vitoria recovered from its first defeat to retake hold of Group B with a comfortable, high-volumn home win, 113-88, on Thursday against a Zalgiris Kaunas. The victory served to give Tau back exclusive hold of first place in Group B at 5-1, as Union Olimpija (4-2) was losing on the road at Montepaschi Siena. The absence of injured Hanno Mottola went rather unnoticed for Tau as Andres Nocioni led the hosts with 23 points and 8 rebounds and 3 assists, while Rashard Griffith added 15 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. Laurent Foirest nailed 18 more points for Tau, Leandro Palladino 17 on 4-for-5 three-point shooting and Luis Scola 16. For Zalgiris, Kornel David led the way with 25 points and 8 rebounds, while Ed Cota and Stombergas netted 19 each. Stombergas was received with a standing ovation by the Tau fans played before two seasons ago, but that would be as nice as the game got for the visitors.
Both teams started the game scoring like mad at each other's baskets, with special mention to the many threes that went in. Palladino, Jerome Allen and Foirest hit one each for Tau, while for Zalgiris, Cota and Stombergas did the same thing. The hosts overcame the absence of Mottola in the paint since Scola dished assists to Griffith, who ended the first 10 minutes with 7 points. On the other side, David ended the first period with 6 rebounds, even though the most outstanding player was Cota who nailed 7 points and drove his team to within two points of Tau after 10 minutes, 24-22.
The second quarter went along as the first had. The offense prevailed over the defense, especially for Tau who had in Palladino and Nocioni the best scorers also with great percentages. Nocioni caught boards and had two steals that helped Tau to burst to 49-38 with 3 minutes to go. But Cota and Stombergas would re-appear for their team to get the Lithuanians close again at 55-48 at halftime. At that point, the Argentinian connection of Nocioni and Palladino shot for 25 combined points, while Cota and Stombergas did the same for 27 points.
After resumption, the hosts stampeded back on court and, with a 12-0 tear in barely 3 minutes, forged a quick 17-point lead 67-50. A three-point play by Sergi Vidal, a three-point shot by Palladino, a specatcular dunk by Nocioni and two more baskets by Griffith put things very difficult for Zalgiris. The visitors faded at the same time that Cota disappeared from the court, only to reappear with isolated flashes of his quality as a player, like a backwards assists that provoked the ovation of all the arena. Coach Dusko Ivanovic barely used Scola with the good performances by Griffith and Nocioni, who drew fouls from the Lithuanian centers. At the end of the third, the guests could only maintain the deficit at 84-66, due to a huge Nocioni who pulled 3 consecutive defensive boards, while Zalgiris forgot about defense and Cota, Stombergas and David decided to save the game through individual actions.
The last quarter didn't have history as Tau did nothing but increase its lead and please their fans with spectacular plays, and Zalgiris surrendered to the superiority of the hosts. Only Stombergas, motivated by his comeback to the Buesa Arena and Cota, always ambitious, deprived their team to leave Vitoria with a defeat by more than the final 25 points.
Thursday, November 14, 2002