Tau Ceramica reasserted its power in Group A by blasting to a 94-73 victory at home over Zalgiris Kaunas, who had held first-place exclusively before the game but had to share it with two other teams after. A good first quarter by Tau set the pace as Zelgiris never led nor managed to mount a serious comeback. The win lifts Tau to first place of the group, even though it is part of a three-way tie with Zalgiris and Benetton, all with 6-3 records. Luis Scola led Tau with 19 points and 9 rebounds. Travis Hansen added 18 points, making 4 of 6 triples. Kornel David nailed 16 points and pulled 9 rebounds while Casey Jacobsen added 10 points and Pablo Prigioni dished 10 assists for Tau. Tanoka Beard was once again the best man for Zalgiris with 17 points. Darjus Lavrinovic added 12 with 13 rebounds, Reggie Freeman 11 and Paulius Jankunas 10.
Although Ed Cota got Zalgiris going, Tau needed less than a minute to get ahead with an 8-0 run in which Pablo Prigioni shined. Even when Tanoka Beard made free throws and Reggie Freeman hit a three-pointer, the hosts even widened the gap to 16-7 midway through the first period due to a couple of baskets by Kornel David, as well as a pair of fast break dunks by Hansen and Jacobsen. Zalgiris coach Antanas Sireika stopped the game with a timeout, but Splitter scored 6 points in a row for a 22-11 lead after 6 minutes. Zalgiris also made deep changes in its roster, replacing Jankunas, Cota and Ayuso with Lavrinovic, Simonas Serapinas and Vidas Ginevicius, but that new look was not enough to make things change quickly. It was Beard's basket-plus-foul which fueled a slight reaction which brought Zalgiris within 28-19 after 10 minues.
Serapinas fueled the Zalgiris comeback with a couple of free throws, as Ukic and Jankunas exchanged baskets for a 30-23 score. Zalgiris' zone defense seemed to put the hosts in trouble, as Tau's perimeter found nothing but the rim from outside. Zalgiris' offense was not brilliant either, but Lavrinovic managed to bury a three and Serapinas brought the guests within 32-28 with a fast break layup. Tau reacted pretty quickly thanks to Serkan Erdogan and Scola, who returned an 11-point lead at 39-28 midway through the second quarter. The game went crazy at that point, as both teams started to play an aggressive and fast basketball that led to a 43-34 score after 18 minutes. This kind of run-and-gun game benefited Tau, that closed the half with back-to-back threes by Hansen and Jacobsen to get a 14-point lead, 54-40, at the break.
Another three-pointer by Hansen opened the third quarter by giving to give Tau 17-point lead. But Zalgiris didn't panic as Beard and Cota kept pushing to reduce the gap to 59-46 after 22 minutes. Hansen came to the rescue again with back-to-back threes that increased the lead even more, to 66-48, midway through the third period. When David blocked a shot by Beard, it was a clear example of the visitors' frustrations. Zalgiris tried zone defense, but nothing worked as Sergi Vidal and Roko-Leni Ukic broke it with back-to-back three-pointers as Tau cruised to a 77-58 margin after 30 minutes.
A new 6-2 Tau run to start the last quarter made things even clearier. Zalgiris tried another timeout with 7:30 toplay and 83-60 on the board, but it was already too late for the guests. Tau kept increasing the gap step by step. First, it was a fastbreak layup by Scola. Later, there was a free throw by Vidal and then back-to-back baskets from David as Zalgiris continued wasting the ball in offense. That gave Tau a 30-point lead, 92-62, for the first time in the game, with more than 4 minutes to the end. With the outcome beyond doubt, Zalgiris took advantage of the remaining time to reduce the difference as the game ended with Tau's 94-73 win.
Thursday, January 5, 2006