Tau Ceramica of Spain left no doubts that it considers itself to be the deserving favorite in Group H as it whacked visiting Ulker of Turkey 101-69 in their Top 16 opener on Wednesday. In a tournament where everyone predicts that point differentials can eventually decide the group winners, Tau had no mercy once it realized that Ulker was struggling. A five-point lead after 10 minutes was nearly doubled by halftime and almost tripled by the end of three quarters. Tau went inside to do its damage, where young Luis Scola amassed 24 points and 9 rebounds and veteran Dejan Tomasevic 17 points and 7 rebounds. Hugo Sconochini added 13 points for Tau and Andres Nocioni 11. Ulker had good games from only Quadre Lollis, with 15 points and 8 rebounds, and Harun Erdenay with 13 points.
The game started with a tight individual defense on both sides, which led Tau to base its offensive plays in the paint through Fabricio Oberto and Dejan Tomasevic, eventually hurting the Turkish team. They forced coach Murat Didin called a time out for Ulker, which improved its defense and got closer on the scoreboard. But the Spaniards took advantage of their defensive pressure to run the ball and build fastbreaks. Nevertheless, the balance remained during the first quarter, but the aggressive defense of two of the best defensive teams in the Euroleague, provoked many fouls which left Oberto with three fouls, still with 30 minutes to go. At the end of the first 10 minutes the score was 24-19.
The second period began with Tau's hottest players on court. The change of Chris Corchiani for Carlos Arroyo and Andres Nocioni for Sergi Vidal gave personality to the hosts, who pulled away by 16, to 37-21 in minute 16, but Ulker reacted and cut down the deficit. Despite this reaction, the superiority of the home centers, especially of Tomasevic, active on offense and rebounding, put things back in their place and left the score at 52-33 at the break.
The second half of the game started with a vision, as it looked like Ulker had learned the lesson during the break and came back with a tighter defense. But the vision was a mirage. It only took one minute for Tau to destroy all the defensive strategies displayed by the Turkish, and flew over them with dunks by Nocioni, supremacy in the paint by Tomasevic, the best player for the hosts tonight, and aggressive defense by Foirest. Everything added up to a 14-2 run in the first 6 minutes of the third quarter that forced another Ulker timeout. But little changed after that. Tau felt superior and wanted to show it. With leads around the 30 points, coach Dusko Ivanovic has started with the rotations. Despite the changes, the intensity of the game didn't decrease, and only Harun Erdenay seemed to be willing to offer some resistance to the Spaniards. But he was not enough to stop Tau, as the 29-point lead at the end of the third confirmed, 79-50.
With the game broken open, the last quarter was showtime for Tau and its crowd. The first action was the comeback of point guard Elmer Bennett after two months sidelined due to foot injury. The Fernando Buesa Arena stood up to give an ovation to their hero. Mirroring what was happening with the crowd, Tau's players did whatever they wanted with Ulker, as young Gabriel Fernandez kept hitting threes (he has made 8 of 8 this season in the Euroleague). Sergi Vidal blocked a shot and he scored in the next offensive play, while a coast-to-coast foray by Luis Scola prevented the fans from sitting down again. Tau presented its candidature to the top spot in the Euroleague, and Ulker saw, at least temporarily, how its options decrease to be among the best in the continent with a final score of 101-69.
Wednesday, February 27, 2002