Tau Ceramica collected its sixth straight Group A win and set up a big showdown for next week by edging Le Mans Sarthe Basket 76-79 on the road on Wednesday night. Tau improved to 6-1 and retained a share of the top spot with Olympiacos, which beat RheinEnergie 81-88 in Dusseldorf, Germany, earlier in the evening. The winner of next week's clash in Vitoria, Spain will take sole possession of the Group A lead. Meanwhile, Le Mans dropped to 3-4, but keeps its Top 16 chances alive. Luis Scola led the winners with 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting and 9 rebounds. Igor Rakocevic added 14 points, Serkan Erdogan and Tiago Splitter each had 13 and Zoran Planinic scored 10 points, grabbed 7 rebounds and dished 5 assists for Tau. Sandro Nicevic and Kenny Gregory each had 18 points for Le Mans. Nebojsa Bogavac added 15 while Eric Campbell posted a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds for the hosts. Erdogan and Scola helped Tau to get a 40-50 lead at halftime. A put-back dunk by Alain Koffi brought Le Mans within 52-54, but Rakocevic, Planinic and Scola allowed Tau to boost its margin to 51-75 with 5 minutes to go. Tau held off a wild Le Mans rally to add a big road win.
Koffi opened fire for the hosts with a hook shot, but Tau needed only a few second to tie the game on a bank shot by Scola. Le Mans was looking for easy baskets inside by taking advantage of its physical advantage and wound up with a pair of dunks by Campbell and Koffi to take a 9-7 lead after 4 minutes. Scola, who was unstoppable in the beginning, and Rakocevic, the only perimeter player scoring for the guests, led Tau back and then it was Planinic's turn with 4 points in a row to give Tau a 14-17 lead with three minutes remaining in the quarter. Although Le Mans kept pushing in the paint, a couple of three-pointers by Rakocevic and Mirza Teletovic maintained the guests' short lead. Another three by Nicevic, followed by a pair of free throws by Rakocevic closed the first period with Tau leading 25-27.
The guests started at full throttle after the break, as Splitter and Planinic ignited a 0-5 run that forced Vincent Collet to call for an early timeout. The one who best understood the coach's orders was Nicevic, who brought Le Mans within 29-32 with a pair of baskets. Tau reacted quickly and enlarged the gap with a nice move by Tiago Splitter and a corner triple from by Erdogan for a 29-37 edge midway through the second period. The hosts were unable to break the suffocating Tau defense, which put a lot of pressure on the ball. Nicolas Batum and Yannick Bokolo awakened Le Mans with a nice layup and two-handed dunk, respectively, which were followed by a jumper by a Bogavac to get the hosts within 36-42 with 3 minutes to go. Tau boss Velimir Perasovic answered quickly by putting Scola and Rakocevic back on court, fueling a 4-8 run that allowed TAU to keep a double-digit margin at halftime, 40-50.
Tyson Wheeler feed Campbel for an uncontested dunk and Gregory scored a nice layup off the dribble to reduce the gap to 44-50, as Tau struggled on offense. The first Tau basket of the second half came after 2 minutes on a jumper by Rakocevic, but the hosts were back already in the game. Bogavac went for a three and Koffi ended a fastbreak with a two-handed dunk, which got Le Mans thinking that the comeback was possible. However Tau found the way to remain calm, thanks to a couple of layups by Planinic and Rakocevic. Scola increased the gap and Collet asked for a timeout with his team trailing 52-60. Splitter took over in the following minutes, leading Tau to a 56-66 lead at the end of the third period.
Le Mans tried to play up-tempo basketball to quickly reduce the gap, but Tau managed to take control thanks to a three-pointer by Erdogan, which gave the visitors a 15-point lead with 6 minutes to go. Collet tried to change the balance with a 2-3 zone deffense and it worked. Gregory and Nicevic combined for 8 straight points to get Le Mans within 69-75 with 3 minutes to go, forcing Tau to take an urgent timeout. Bogavac made the score tighter with a fast break layup, starting a short period in which both teams exchanged baskets. Le Mans trailed by only four, 73-77, with one minute remaining, but Gregory missed a three pointer that gave Tau the chance to kill the game. Le Mans's tough deffense forced a shot clock violation for Tau with less than 40 seconds to go, but the final answer came from Planinic, who stole a key ball on the following possession and allowed Tau to keep the lead for good. Tau won the free-throw battle down the stretch to take the final decision, 76-79.
Wednesday, December 6, 2006