Tau Ceramica assured itself a top seed in the upcoming Top 16 Draw when it turned back visiting Prokom Trefl Sopot 76-64 in Group A on Wednesday. Tau lifted its record to 11-2, and though it has yet to clinch first place, will lead a Top 16 group by clinching at least the best second-place record in the competition. Prokom fell to 5-8 and will now face a showdown at home next week against Climamio Bologna in order to reach the Top 16. The visitors made a game of it by staying close to Tau until late in the third quarter before their offense dried up and the hosts pulled away to victory. Igor Rakocevic was the big gun for Tau with 20 points. Pablo Prigioni added 13 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists. Mirza Teletovic also scored 13, while Luis Scola added 12. Tau's defense limited Prokom to just a pair of double-digit scorers, Michael Andersen with 15 points and Donatas Slanina with 11.
Scola celebrated the pre-game arrival of his December MVP trophy with the first basket of the night, but the visitors didn’t care about awards and reacted with a 0-6 run behind 4 points from Adam Wojcik. Although Scola and Tiago Splitter took over to tie the game right after that, Rashid Atkins and Donatas Slanina joined the scoring to send Prokom ahead 8-13 after 4 minutes. Tau survived thanks to a couple of offensive rebounds that allowed Splitter to dunk an alley-oop pass from Prigioni. Rakocevic followed with a fastbreak three-pointer and Prigioni a layup that let the hosts take the lead at 15-13. Prokom looked stunned, scoring only 4 points in the remaining 5 minutes. Meanwhile, a pair of three-pointers scored by Serkan Erdogan and Rakocevic added to the difference as Tau finished the first quarter with a comfortable margin, 28-20.
Splitter took over early in the second quarter, scoring twice inside for the first double-digit lead, 32-22. Prokom managed to slow the pace a bit with Tomas Pacesas at the point guard, and Tau stopped getting easy baskets inside, even with Scola back on court. A free throw by Jasmin Hukic and a jumper by Michael Andersen got Prokom back on the track, within 7 points at 34-27. Despite a Tau timeout, the visitors kept forcing mistakes on the hosts, and 5 points in a row by a hot Andersen brought Prokom within 36-34 after 18 minutes. Another Tau timeout saw the hosts react, especially on defense. Free throws by Teletovic and Fred House widened the margin once again, to 42-34, but Prokom finished the half with a layup by Andersen and a big three-pointer by Christian Dalmau to close within 42-39 at the break.
Things didn’t change a lot after intermission. Although Tau tried to speed up things with good ball circulation, poor shooting prevented the hosts from escaping. Prokom got even closer, 45-43 on another basket by Andersen, but missed a chance take the lead back. That was hint enough for the hosts, who used Prigioni in the perimeter and Kaya Peker in the paint to race ahead again by 52-44. Prokom used a timeout now to calm down and play patient enough offense to reduce the gap to 54-48 on a couple of jumpers by Wojcik and Atkins at the end of three quarters.
Both teams exchanged mistakes for the first 3 minutes of the final quarter until Mirza Teletovic ended a fastbreak with a two.handed dunk for a double-digit lead at 58-48. Prokom's poor shooting and weak rebounding prevented them from threatening Tau seriously. The hosts needed little effort to extend the lead to 14 points, 64-50, with 4 minutes left to play. When the outcome was more than clear, the game became an exhibition for everybody. Tau head coach Velimir Perasovic used the last 90 seconds to reward Ariel Eslava with his first Euroleague minutes of the season, as the hosts recorded their 12th win of the regular season.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007