Tau Ceramica pounded Union Olimpija 101-69 on Wednesday at the Fernando Buesa Arena in Vitoria, Spain, to remain alive in the fight for the top spot in Group C. Tau improved to 5-2 with the win, beating Olimpija for the eight straight time. Meanwhile the Slovenian champs fell to 1-6 this season as their Top 16 hopes all but disappeared. The visitors started strong as the presence of interim head coach Gasper Potocnik seemed to spark the club. However from the midway point of the second period, Tau outscored Olimpija 72-39 to wrap up a convincing win. Will McDonald led five Tau scorers in double figures with 21 points, Mirza Teletovic added 13, Pete Mickeal and Fernando San Emeterio scored 12 each and Stanko Barac netted 11 and 8 rebounds. Miha Zupan led Olimpija with 15 points, Vladimir Golubovic recorded 12 points and 9 rebounds and Frank Robinson added 12 for Olimpija, which committed 23 turnovers.
Despite of the absences of starters Vlado Ilievski and Marko Milic, Olimpija started in a strong fashion, showing a balanced offense in which all the players contributed. That turned into a 0-4 early lead, which grew as the game went on. Tau survived thanks to a pair of basket-plus-foul plays by McDonald and San Emeterio, but it wasn’t enough to stop the visitors. Olimpija dominated 13-22 after six minutes, forcing head coach Dusko Ivanovic to ask for an urgent timeout to try to stop the drought. Although Teletovic seemed to break the trend with a three-pointer, the visitors kept rocking with Frank Robinson and Mirza Begic, good enough for an 18-27 edge with two minutes to go. Suddenly, the lights turned off for the Slovenian champs as Tau raised its defensive level. Teletovic hit a three to reduce the gap to 6, followed by a steal and a layup by Sergi Vidal. Another steal by Prigioni, followed with a no-look pass to Mickeal, closed the quarter with the visitors ahead just 25-27.
Olimpija’s blackout continued after the break, as it remained scoreless for the first four minutes in the quarter. Unfortunately for the hosts, things were not much better as only McDonald and Teletovic were able to hit the rim. It was Robinson with a layup-plus-foul that rescued Olimpija and returned the lead to the visitors, 29-30, midway through the second period. The joy didn’t last for long for Olimpija, as Tau found its momentum thanks to a full-court press that forced several turnovers. Led by McDonald and Mickeal, Tau needed less than four minutes to get its first double-digit lead. The zone defense used by Olimpija proved useless too, as the hosts didn’t need to play half-court basketball to keep adding points. A three by Mickeal followed by a fast break by Vidal extended the gap to 48-33, a 15-points advantage that remained steady at the end of the first half; 52-37.
The third quarter started in the same way the second ended; Tau managed to keep Olimpija’s shooters off balance and its pressure on defense caused several turnovers that allowed the hosts to run. Tau proceeded to outscored Olimpija 8-0 in the next three minutes to build a 20+-point margin, forcing an Olimpija timeout. Although Zupan nailed a three just after the break, the outlook didn’t change. Tau exploited each opportunity to run the court, always finding an open man either inside or outside. The difference kept growing step by step, as Olimpija was unable to find a good scoring rhythm and Tau didn’t decrease its intensity. Stanko Barac scored from the free throw line to give the hosts a 71-42 lead, but Olimpija reemerged and outscored Tau 1-9 in the last two minutes to reduce it to 72-50 at the end of the third quarter.
It was an illusion, however, as everything returned to its previous state at the beginning of the last quarter. Begic, who hurt TAU’s frontcourt in the first period, fouled out with six minutes remaining, as Ivanovic granted some Euroleague action to Ariel Eslava and youngster Matias Nocedal. Even with two non-regular players in its roster, Tau managed to reach a 30-point lead, 80-50, after 33 minutes when Eslava hit a left-handed hook shot. With the outcome in no doubt, the last minutes served for nothing but to allow both teams to play without pressure, giving fans some nice plays to cap an intense basketball Euroleague night.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008