Ulker ended a roller coaster ride through Group C by rallying into the Top 16 on Wednesday by defeating Tau Ceramica 86-73 at home in Istanbul. The victory lifted Ulker's record to 7-7, good enough for fourth place in the group, on a night when a defeat would have dropped it to sixth place. Tau finished 6-8 and in fifth place by virtue of a tiebreak advantage over Unicaja, which had the same record. Faced with saving its season, Ulker nursed small leads all night and pulled away from Tau for good early in the final quarter. Saulius Stombergas led the five double-figure scorers with 19 points for Ulker. Serkan Erdogan added 13 while Eurelijus Zukauskas, Kerem Gonlum and Virginijus Praskevicius poured in 12 each. Kerem Tunceri orchestrated things at both ends for Ulker with 7 assists and 4 steals to go with 9 points. Tau, missing top scorer Arvydas Macijauskas as well as head coach Dusko Ivanovic, got 16 points from Luis Scola, 13 from Robert Conley and 10 each from Sergi Vidal and Roberto Gabini.
Ulker had an impressive start and took the control of the match immediately. Praskevicius opened the scoring with a triple and added another pair from the arc before 5 minutes had passed to give Ulker a 15-6 start. Ulker tried zone pressure starting to increase the lead, but Scola got through it for Tau. Stombergas boosted the lead to double-digits, 22-12, with another three-pointer, but Scola cut that in half with a layup that made it 22-17. Stombergas couldn't wait to answer his former team, and his second triple put Ulker in front 28-21 after 10 minutes in which he, Praskevicius and Zukauskas shared 23 the home team's points.
Roberto Gabini got Tau's second quarter going with a three-pointer from the right the wing, but Ulker was not about to slow down. Dion Glover's layup, a jumper by Stombergas jumper and Gonlum's basket-plus-free throw gave the hosts their best lead yet, 35-24. Scola went out with three fouls and was replaced by Splitter, who had big impact in the paint. He stopped Ulker big men at one end and used a three-point play at the other to cut the difference to 37-32. Splitter would score 7 in the quarter, but now it was Ulker's turn, as Erdogan's three-pointer bumped the lead back to 9 points, 43-34. Ulker's defense softened as Tau ran and Vidal shot free throws and a final basket of the half that brought the guests within 43-40 after 20 minutes.
Tau came out after the break playing patient in offense and better on defense than in the first half. In minute 24, center Andrew Betts dunked in to cut the difference to just a point, 47-46. Praskevicius saved Ulker from that threat witha triple, to which Stombergas added a jump shot to send the hosts ahead 52-46. Consecutive Ulker turnovers ended in dunks by Gabini and Vidal as Tau threatened again at 52-50 midway through the quarter. With the help of its fans, Ulker pulled back from the brink again and soon Gonlum's layup made it 59-52. He and Conley exchanged dunks before Zukauskas extended Ulker's edge to 63-57 after 30 minutes.
Zukauskas got Ulker started in the pivotal last quarter too, and soon Erdogan was burying a three-pointer for a huge 70-57 advantage. Tau wasn't done, however, and made a 3-10 run through the midde of the quarter that ended on Gabini's triple with 73-67 showing on the scoreboard. A Gonlum tip-in reestablished a 10-point lead, 77-67. Zukauskas made a huge block on Betts, but the rebound fell to Tau point guard Pablo Prigioni, who threw it in from almost 10 meters. When Scola got a basket-plus-free throw after that, Tau was within 77-73 with less than 3 minutes remaining. Ulker needed a boost, and Stombergas supplied it from the three-point arc. Tunceri followed with a jumper to make it 82-73. Ulker's defense did the rest, holding Tau scoreless the rest of the way and sending the hosts walking tall into the Top 16.
Wednesday, February 9, 2005