Tau Ceramica will try to practically assure itself a trip to the Top 16 when it hosts last-place Union Olimpija for a Group A home game in Vitoria, Spain, on Thursday. The Group A co-leader, Tau (6-3) defeated Zalgiris 94-73 last week to end a two-game slide. Olimpija (2-7) lost at home to Bamberg 57-59, a heartbreaker after falling to Zalgiris by one point in the previous game. Union is 0-4 this season in games decided by 4 points or fewer. When these teams met in Slovenia in November, Tau won 70-87 as Predrag Drobnjak had his best game since his return to European hoops with 21 points and 8 rebounds. Jimmy Oliver led Olimpija with 25 points that night. Drobnjak (5.1 ppg.) makes up just a part of Tau's awesome frontline. Luis Scola (16.7 ppg., 7 rpg.) leads a group of stars that includes Kornel David (10.2 ppg., 5.6 rpg.), Tiago Splitter (8.2 ppg.) and Drobnjak, giving Tau unparalleled depth up front. Olimpija, the second worst rebounding team in the elague with 27 boards per game, will need big things from Szymon Szewcyk (8.3 ppg.), who has returned to action, Josko Poljak, Hasan Rizvic and DeMarco Johnson, at least on the defensive end, to keep up with Tau. Olimpija's strength is in its backcourt, where Yotam Halperin (14.6 ppg., 3.6 apg., 2.4 spg.) and Teemu Rannikko (13.1 ppg., 3.6 apg.) have combined with veteran Oliver (14.4 ppg.) to form a lethal scoring trio. However Tau is also extremely deep among its guards, which could cause problems for the Olimpija threesome, who all average at least 32 minutes per game. Tau guards Pablo Prigioni (6 ppg., 6.6 apg.), the league leader in assists, Serkan Erdogan (11 ppg.) and Roko-Leni Ukic, together with swingmen Travis Hansen (11 ppg., 46.1% 3FG) and Casey Jacobsen (6.5 ppg.), will look to wear down the visitors. Olimpija has been outscored in the fourth quarter in each of the last three games. To avoid that, reserves Verdan Morovic (7.1 ppg.) and Toni Dejan may need to play a more active role in the game so that Halperin, Rannikko and Oliver arrive fresh to crunch time. Olimpija will pin much of its hopes on Johnson's ability to rejuvenate the frontcourt in his debut and to ward off Scola in what could be the most important matchup for the visiting side. The hosts will focus on Prigioni and Ukic's attempts to tire Halperin - or to take advantage of the reserves - as it attempts to remain retain its share or more of first place in Group A.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006