The clash of the titans in Group B on Thursday night in Vitoria fell to host Tau Ceramica, who recovered from big early deficits to outlast Union Olimpija 86-79 in a game that broke their first-place tie. Olimpija ruled in the first quarter, but then Rashard Griffith and Andres Nocioni started Tau's long comeback. In the end, despite both Griffith and his backup, Bill Philips, having fouled out, Tau forged a solid lead in the last plays thanks to Nocioni and Jerome Allen, who scored his team's last 6 points. The win left Tau alone atop Group B at 7-2, while Union Olimpija dropped into a 6-3 tie with Panathinaikos. Nocioni led the winners with a huge double-double of 19 points and 16 rebounds. Allen added 18 points, Griffith 16 and Phillips 14. For Olimpija, Goran Jurak and Jasmin Hukic nailed 15 each, Marino Bazdaric contributed 14 and Vlado Ilievski bagged 11.
Olimpija proved its status as the revelation team on the Euroleague in the first quarter. An active, smart defense confused Tau into constant turnovers, which Olimpija turned into big leads with accurate shooting in transition from long range. and good percentages from the long range, thanks to Goran Jurak and Vlatko Ilievski, gave an early double digit lead to Olimpija, 6-16. Coach Dusko Ivanovic didn't have many players for the bench rotation and that was the main problem for the hosts. Andres Nocioni was the only player of Tau who scored somewhat regularly, but the Slovenins were always there to increase the lead from the 6.25 line, good for a 15-27 lead after 10 minutes.
Rashard Griffith was the absolute protagonist of the first plays of the second period. His superiority in the paint seemed obvious but Tau didn't exploit it enough until then. Griffith lead a 16-3 run for Tau to jump ahead for 33-32, while the fans realized that they would be crucial to help their team win the game. When an exhausted Griffith asked for the change, Andres Nocioni took the leadership dishing out assists, pulling boards and also scoring. Union Olimpija started to look like Tau had in the first quarter, committing turnovers against the tough defense of Tau. The long-range shots didn't go in, and Tau pulled all the boards. Despite the reaction of the hosts, they never managed to pull away, and a big three by Jasmin Hukic for 40-39 was followed by a layup by Josko Poljak that put his team ahead again, 40-41 at the break.
The second half started with a fast pace on both sides. Griffith was back on court for Tau, but the key role of the team was still for Nocioni and Jerome Allen also claimed it from downtown and two fastbreaks for 51-45. Union Olimpija tried the long-range trick, but it didn't work as well as in the first quarter. Tomo Mahoric had to call a timeout when a one-on-one of Griffith against Josko Poljak in the paint went in, 53-45. And that was where it was at, with Poljak and Griffith taking it personal and fighting every offensive play under the boards. Leo Palladino had to sit on the bench as he had an ankle twist, putting Ivanovic in even more trouble. Union Olimpija looked for the long plays, moving the ball in the backcourt and waiting for the low post option. It was then when Griffith, who was again the main pillar of Tau, was called his fourth foul and had to go top the bench, at the same time as Boisa hit both from the charity line for 55-58 to seal a 2-13 run. Nocioni re-appeared for his second monster block of the night, as Olimpija didn't find the way to surpass the hosts in the score. Turnovers were always there on both sides to frustrate the options of both teams, and the scoring decreased the level of the first half as the quarter ended 60-55 for the hosts.
The last quarter started with a turnover three by Nocioni, who was doing everything for his team on both ends, and Bill Philips also contributed under the rim of Olimpija. The tension in the game did nothing but grow, and the guests also looked for the one-on-one option in offense, trying to look for the fouls of Tau, who started having serious problems with this aspect. Two free throws by Jurak pulled Olimpija within 2 points, 63-61 and 7 minutes to go. The key moment for Tau arrived one minute later, when its beat man, Griffith, was fouled out after the struggle with Jasmin Hukic in defense. Union Olimpija didn't take full advantage of the many trips to the free throw line, and Phillips hit his second three for 68-62 and another layup for 70-65, but he was also fouled out in the following play, as Tau lost its big men on court. Palladino had to step back on court, and Jose Calderon was back from the three-point line at the same time as Olimpija didn't improve its performance from the charity line. Mahoric called a timeout to re-organize the players for the last 4 minutes, but Palladino still had strength to hit again from downtown. The guests didn't bite in offense and that was taken advantage of by Tau, as a huge Nocioni hit a big basket underneath for 78-66 and 3 minutes to go. Olimpija went tougher on defense and Boisa put his team 10 points down, but the guests were running out of time and started to miss shots out of too fast plays. Hukic hit two free throws for 80-72 and less than 2 minutes to go, and Hukic hit a big three from the side in the next play for 80-75 that shut the fans at the Fernando Buesa arena. After timeout, Allen kept his head cold to hit 4 from the free throw line for 84-75 and 40 seconds to go, and Tau cruised to the final win.
Thursday, December 19, 2002