Tau Ceramica pounded Prokom Trefl Sopot 98-74 on Thursday night at Fernando Buesa Arena in Vitoria, Spain, to take sole possession of second place in Group A. Tau dominated inside en route to its third straight win and a 7-2 record, which practically guarantees it a spot in the Top 16. With its two main small forwards, Pete Mickeal and Simas Jasaitis, out with injuries, Sergi Vidal played 36 minutes and posted 9 minutes, 7 rebounds and 4 assist, while the big men Will McDonald, Tiago Splitter, Mirza Teletovic and Gabe Muoneke combined for 53 points to lead Tau to an easy win. The game was close for 10 minutes, but Tau started pulling away in the second quarter to take a 61-40 halftime lead and then held Prokom to 7 third-quarter points as it turned the game into a blowout. McDonald finished with 19 points, Muoneke had 16 in 16 minutes, Igor Rakocevic also scored 16, Zoran Planinic had 15 and Teletovic 12. No starter scored in double figures for Prokom, which was led by Krzysztof Roszyk and Tomas Van den Spiegel with 11 each. The Polish champs fell to 1-9 and are all but mathematically eliminated from the next stage.
Milan Gurovic fired in a layup to give the guests the first lead, but the hosts showed they were not going to relax and used Vidal and Splitter to gain an 11-7 edge after four minutes. Van den Spiegel came to the rescue for Prokom and took advantage of a Tau’s soft inside defense to make it 13-11 midway though the first period. The answer from the hosts came from the three-point line, as Rakocevic hit twice from downtown to give Tau a safe margin at 19-12 one minute later. Prokom didn’t give up, however, as Van den Spiegel kept rocking inside the paint to bring his team within 21-18 with two minutes to go. Rakocevic punished Prokom with a corner three, followed with the third foul on point guard Igor Milicic after only nine minutes. The hosts decided to play zone defense at that point, but Donatas Slanina showed how easy was to break it with a triple. Although Planinic hit a basket plus free-throw right after that, Christos Harissis repeated from downtown to close the first quarter with Prokom trailing 28-24.
Teletovic continued the three-point festival right after the break with two in a row to widen the margin to 34-26. The visitors struggled in offense when they had to use their reserves, as Teletovic kept punishing the rim at the other end. Two free throws by Planinic gave Tau a 40-29 advantage as the hosts found the intensity they lacked in defense so far. Tau based its attack on McDonald, whose performance in the last game was disappointing, in order to let him recover his self-confidence. The strategy was successful, as McDonald found no problems to break Prokom defense on every play. That was enough for Tau to keep a comfortable margin, which Prokom tried to reduce with zone defense. It didn’t work as expected, as Tau didn’t find big problems to keep scoring easy baskets, this time through new signing Muoneke, who scored 8 points in a row to boost Tau’s lead to 55-37 with two minutes to go in the half. McDonald followed him with a hook shot for the first 20-point margin, while Pablo Prigioni and Muoneke extended it a little bit more to reach halftime with the hosts commanding 61-40.
Despite the big advantage, Tau seemed to take the game more seriously after the intermission. The hosts increased their defensive effort to prevent Prokom from getting easy baskets, as they looked for Splitter on offense to force Van den Spiegel to commit fouls. It worked fine, as Prokom needed almost three minutes to score its first points and the Belgian center fouled out only four minutes into the quarter. Meanwhile, the margin kept increasing step by step, even though the pace of the game decreased a bit. Tau led 69-43 midway though the third period, and needed only a pair of fast-breaks to reach a 30-point edge behind a two-handed dunk by Rakocevic after 27 minutes. The guests looked totally heartless and Tau took advantage of the lack of desire have some fun with nice dunks, powerful blocks and quick fastbreaks. The third quarter finished with a 79-47 Tau lead – as Prokom scored only 7 points in the quarter.
With the outcome in no doubt, the last quarter became a punishment for the visitors, whose only target was to avoid a shameful loss in Vitoria. Tau took advantage of the situation to perform some tests and give minutes to players like McDonald or Muoneke, whose contribution will be required in the future. Both players gave their best to satisfy head coach Neven Spahija, as Prokom used mostly reserves and barely collected points against the Tau defense. Roszyk and Adam Lapeta rose up in the final minutes to give some breath to the guests. The first one sank a pair of three pointers and the latter threw down a big slam to prevent Tau from reaching a 40-point lead, as Tau decided to give up and give some Euroleague action to Ander García and Lucho Fernandez. Prokom took advantage of it to avoid the humiliation, finishing the game with a 24-point deficit, 98-74.
Thursday, January 3, 2008