Tau Ceramica had to survive a furious rally to stay perfect at the top of Group D by pulling out a 89-99 road win against Pau-Orthez in France on Thursday. Tau raised its record to 2-0, good for exclusive control of first place after Lottomatica Roma lost at home to Maccabi Tel Aviv. Pau fell to 0-2, but not for lack of trying. Tau led by as many as 25 points late in the third quarter, but Pau rallied after that to within 4 points with a couple minutes to play before the visitors made sure with 10-for-10 free throw shooting down the stretch. Luis Scola paced the winners with 23 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. Igor Rakocevic added 18 points, while Fred House had 17 and 10 rebounds. Serkan Erdogan scored all his 15 points in the first half. For Pau, Clint Harrison buried 4 three-pointers on the way to 22 points. Aaron Miles followed with 17 points, Michael Wright with 15 and Ricardo Greer with 14.
Nobody was able to find the hoop for the first minute of the game, until Fred House stole and dunkedteal with a dunk for the first Tau's first lead of the night. Although Ian Mahinmi and Michael Wright reacted quickly to push Pau ahead with back-to-back inside baskets, the visitors kept scoring easily off their defense. House turned into the go-to player for Tau, which otherwise struggled on offense due to poor shooting. House scored 9 points of Tau's 10-12 edge midway though the first period, as the hosts from Pau were unable to generate any consistency. The hosts tried looking also for a mismatch by using Britton Johnsen as power forward. Johnsen tied the game at 17-17 after 8 minutes with a short jumper, but that just woke up the guests. Tau punished Pau with 7 points in a row to enter the last minute of the quarter with a comfortable margin. After Aaron Miles and Scola exchanges baskets to keep the margin stable, Pablo Prigioni closed the quarter with a monster 9-meter three-pointer for Tau's first double-digit lead, 19-29.
Both sides started the second quarter slow, but Melvin Sanders soon took over with a long-range jumper and a three-pointer that reduce the gap to 26-31 after 13 minutes. The answer came from a red-hot Erdogan, who scored Tau's first 11 points in the quarter, including 2 three-pointers that allowed the guests to maintain a safe margin at 29-40 after 15 minutes. Pau was unable to find a way to break through Tau’s hard defense, surviving now only through Michael Wright’s efforts inside. As such, Tau kept increasing the gap, this time thanks to a good streak from backup point guard Ender Arslan, who followed a three-pointer with 2 free throws to raise difference to 31-47 after 17 minutes. Pau seemed overwhelmed, unable to stop the Tau machine. Even when the hosts tried to disrupt Tau with a zone defense, Erdogan nailed a corner triple that seemed to say there nothing to stop him nor his team. Rakocevic then punctuated the half with a four-point play that left Tau with its highest lead yet, 36-59 at halftime.
The hosts came out strong after the intermission, fueled by back-to-back three pointers from Harrison and Miles, as Wright scored a layup to bring Pau within 44-63 after 22 minutes. The joy lasted only few seconds, as House rose to cap a nice assist from Prigioni with a one-handed dunk and followed that with a layup that returned the lead above 20 points. Tau's ball circulation was working brilliantly now, always finding the open man, outside or inside. Even the Pau fans were applauding the visitors' teamwork. The difference on the scoreboard remained stable during the third quarter, and hit a high of 25 points, 46-71. At the end of the quarter, Tau relaxed a bit and accepted a 12-4 run that allowed Pau to reach the end of the third period with a less painful disadvantage, 58-75.
Pau made its fans believe again with a very good start to the fourth quarter. The hosts caught Tau relaxing and, pushed by Xane D’Almeida and Greer, reduced the gap to 65-77 with 7 minutes to go. Tau tried to react after an urgent timeout, but Pau had the momentum. Little-used teen center Ludovic Vaty scored a layup and Harrison followed it with a fastbreak three-pointer to reduce the bring Pau within 70-78. Scola was the only guest able to score so far in the quarter as Tau’s shooters started missing open shots. At the same time, Pau got confident on three-pointers while playing with four perimeter players. Harrison found his momentum and hit twice from downtown to make it a five-point game at 82-87 after 37 minutes. Miles followed with another bomb to reduce the gap to just 4 points, 85-89, with 2 minutes to go. Pau pushed hard, took big risks on defense and decided to send Tau to the free throw line. There, however, the guests were a perfect 10-for-10 at the end to seal their leadership in Group D with an 89-99 win.
Thursday, February 22, 2007