Careful not to trip where other favorites had fallen earlier this season, Tau Ceramica made sure early of what became an easy 78-92 road win over Union Olimpija in Ljubljana, Slovenia on Wednesday. The victory was Tau's fourth in a row and kept it even with CSKA Moscow at 4-1 for the Group A lead. Olimpija, meanwhile, dropped to 2-3 and tied for fourth place with Zalgiris Kaunas. The Euroleague's reigning top scorer, Igor Rakocevic, blased his way to 26 points on the strength of 3 first-quarter triples that gave Tau double-digit leads for the rest of the game. Pete Mickeal followed him with 15 points, while Tiago Splitter added 14, Will McDonald and Zoran Planinic 11 each. Olimpija played catch-up enough to get within 10 points early in the final quarter, but no closer. Ronell Taylor had 14 points for the hosts, Marko Milic 12, Maurice Bailey 11, Jasmin Hukic and Goran Dragic 10 each.
Rakocevic buried his first tirple try to give Tau its first points, but Hasan Rizvic's second basket and a first by Milic let Olimpija lead 6-5. The hosts would not lead again. Splitter's inside basket and a basket-plus-free throw by Planinic sent Tau on 2-8 run capped by another three-point play, this by Mickeal. Olimpija bit back with 12-13 on a basket by Ronell Taylor, but Tau's next response was even bigger, a 4-17 blast punctuated by Rakocevic's second and third triples back-to-back, plus his free throws to follow. That lasted 5 minutes until the quarter ended with the visitors in full control at 16-30.
McDonald took over the Tau offense to start the second quarter, with 7 points of his own that stretched the lead to 20-37 before Rakocevic returned and added a jumper. Indeed, those two shared Tau's first 13 poitns in the quarter, but the story was Tau's defense, which only allowed 6 points in as many minutes to Olimpija, until Miha Zupan's free throws started a 7-0 mini-run for the hosts that ended with Maurice Bailey's triple and a 29-43 scoreboard. Tau took a timeout to rectify the situation and with Rakocevic completing a 20-point scoring half, eased into the break ahead by 31-51.
Jasmin Hukic lifted Olimpija's spirits by starting the second half with a triple, but even when he scored his team's next basket, it only got them within 36-55. Tau was content to trade points in slow-scoring quarter. Hukic's next triple and free throws by Zupan got the hosts within 43-59 and Goran Dragic later struck from long-range to cut it further, 51-64. Tau responded with quick baskets by Planinic and Mickeal, while Zupan and Sergi Vidal matched free throws on the way to a 53-70 score after 30 minutes.
Taylor and Pablo Prigioni answered each other's triples early in the final quarter, but by the time Dragic returned for another, Olimpija was within 10 points again, at 63-73. It was still the same difference when Tau made its final move, with Prigioni feeding Splitter inside and Rakovic stealing to assist Mirza Teletovic's three-pointer, making it 65-80. Another pair of steals leading to baskets by Prigioni and Rakocevic assured one of the highest leads, 65-84, and made it clear that unlike other superpowers, Tau was taking a victory home with it from Ljubljana.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007