One of the Euroleague's last four undefeated teams fell to its first defeat on its own floor on Wednesday as visiting Lottomatica Roma shocked Tau Ceramica with a 90-93 Group C victory in Vitoria, Spain. The victory let Roma tie Tau for first place, both with 3-1 records, while Fenerbahce (2-1) can join them if it defeats winless Union Olimpija at home on Thursday. Roma established double-digit leads early with great defense and held off a furious Tau rally in the final quarter. Tau missed 4 three-pointes in the last 6 minutes with the chance to tie or go ahead. Sani Becirovic led the winners with 23 points, including making 11 of 12 free throws. Primoz Brezec added 18 points for the winners, Andre Hutson 15, Brandon Jennings 13 and Allan Ray 11. For Tau, Igor Rakocevic had 23 points – 21 of them in the second half. Will McDonald added 16 for Tau and Tiago Splitter and Mirza Teletovic 15 each.
Roma went inside to Brezec for an easy layup that Tau matched with McDonald's first dunk. Rodrigo De la Fuente buried the game's first triple and Ray found Brezec for a dunk as Roma shot ahead 2-7. McDonald slammed home an offensive rebound, but Brezec put back one of his own but then stepped out for a huge triple as Roma roared ahead 4-12. Tau didn't call timeout, but rather brought Prigioni and Splitter off the bench to connect on a reverse layup, but Rakocevic had yet to get a shot off due to Roma's sticky defense. a layup and a pair of free throws by Allan Ray were good enough for a double-digit Roma lead, 6-16, after eight minutes, and Tau head coach Dusko Ivanovic took that timeout now. McDonald answered by dunking another offensive rebound, this with a free throw attached, but Ray hit a cutting Brezec to jam at 9-18. Hutson joined Roma's scorers and Tau needed a buzzer-beating triple by McDonald to hold the damage to 12-20 after one quarter.
Things didn’t change a lot in the second quarter, as Roma kept controlling the pace of the game exploiting Tau's weakness and slowness, especially on the defensive end. Becirovic and Hutson took over and led the way for the visitors, as Ivanovic tried Sergi Vidal at point guard as an emergency measure. It didn't work, as a three-pointer by Becirovic gave Roma its biggest lead so far, 18-32 midway through the second quarter. Both teams exchanged baskets for a while, which benefited Roma, until Tau found the right combination for its backcourt with Prigioni, Robert Hite and Vidal. This trio increased the activity on defense, putting more pressure on Roma's ball circulation, good for a short run that brought Tau within 29-38 after 17 minutes. Ray came to the rescue for the visitors then with a huge triple-plus-free throw for a four-point play. When Becirovic repeated from downtown few seconds later, Roma's double-digit lead was restored. Again, Tau finished a quarter fortunately as Prigioni banked in a 9-meter shot to reduce the difference to 39-49 at halftime.
Both teams started at full-throttle after intermission, playing high-tempo basketball and hitting almost every shot, but with opposite approaches. While Tau looked for Splitter inside, Roma threatened from outside as Brandon Jennings exploited his physical superiority over Prigioni to shine, both scoring and feeding the open man. The Roma lead remained steady until McDonald and Rakocevic collected a pair of three-point plays that reduced the gap to 54-60 with four minutes to go in the quarter. Roma didn’t panic, though, and kept working and waiting for Tau’s mistakes, and when they came, the visitors had no mercy. Jennings finished a pair of flashy fast breaks and Becirovic banked a short shot to regain an 11-point margin, 58-69, entering the last minute. Free throws by the Slovenian guard and Robert Hite closed the period with Roma keeping a safe and comfortable lead, 62-71.
Both teams focused on defense at the beginning of the last quarter, knowing that a good start would grant the win. Mustafa Shakur was the first one to break the trend, scoring a layup-plus-foul that was followed by 3 free throws by Rakocevic to get the hosts within 4. The pressure increased, but Hutson and Jaaber came to the rescue and earned the visitors some breathing room. It wasn’t enough, though, against Tau’s shooting accuracy. Prigioni, first, and Teletovic, later, hit from behind the arc to get the home team even closer, 76-78, midway through the period. Hutson and Becirovic supported Roma at that point, preventing Tau from capping the comeback. A basket by Rakocevic made it a 1-point game with three minutes to go, giving the fans a new reason to keep cheering. The lead moved between 1 and 3 points from then on, and game entered last minute with Roma leading 85-86. Hutson scored a layup and Rakocevic answered quickly, as Tau decided to foul Becirovic with 25 seconds to go. He hit both, giving Roma a 3-point lead that forced Tau to take risks and look for a three. Teletovic missed it and Roberto Gabini hit 2 free throws to seal the outcome for the guests. A late three by Prigioni didn't threaten Roma’s win, while Becirovic capped his superb game with a last free throw in the last second for a 90-93 victory.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008