Benetton Treviso climbed to the second spot in the Group C table by beating Tau Ceramica 73-76 in Vitoria, Spain, on Wednesday night, in an intense showdown between two Final Four hopefuls. Benetton improved to 3-1 in the standings and owns second place exclusively. Tau dropped to 2-2 and joins Panathinaikos and Unicaja in a three-way tie for the third spot. Massimo Bulleri led the winners with 22 points, hitting 4 of 4 two-pointers. Ramunas Siskauskas added 17 ponts on 6 of 6 two-pointers and 5 of 5 free throws. Matteo Soragna chipped in 11 points, while Denis Marconato registered a double-double of 10 points and 15 rebounds and Marlon Garnett added 10 points for the winners. Jose Manuel Calderon led Tau with 16 points, but missed a crucial layup with 10 seconds to go. Kornel David added 14 points and Luis Scola 12, but both combined to make just 6 of 25 two-point shots. A physical game came down to the final two minutes, when Bulleri, Siskauskas and Soragna made 5 of 6 free throws to secure for Benetton a key road win.
The opening minutes showed two different approaches from both contenders. TAU, exploiting its powerful frountcourt, started feeding Scola and Andrew Betts to get easy points from the paint. On the other side, Benetton tried to break Tau's defense from the perimeter. Things worked better for the hosts, who built a 6-2 lead. After a timeout, Benetton rallied to tie 12-12 after three-pointers from Soragna and Bulleri. The guests took a lead for the first time at 16-17 after a hook shot by Marcus Goree, and Garnett soon increased the gap to 20-22 with a three-pointer. Scola scored 4 of his 12 points in the quarter consecutively now to give Tau back a lead, and after Siskauskas and Calderon exchanged layups, the hosts finished the first quarter ahead 26-24.
Tau kept pushing inside, but Siskauskas drove for 7 points in a row that preserved a minimum lead for Benetton, 30-31. Pablo Prigioni, injured since the preseason, made his debut for Tau after 13 minutes and quickly added 2 points. He and Robert Conley increased Tau's intensity at both ends, giving the hosts a small lead at 36-31 midway though the second quarter. Defenses prevailed from that point until halftime as Benetton was controlling the boards with Andrea Bargnani and Marconato. A three-pointer by Sergi Vidal boosted Tau with 2 minutes to go, and a pair of fastbreaks forced a Benetton timeout with 60 seconds to play, but the score at that moment, 43-35, did not change before intermission, leaving an eight-point advantage for the hosts at the break.
Vidal opened fire after halftime with an acrobatic basket, which Calderon followed with a layup as Tau got a game-high 12-point difference at 47-35. Benetton reacted quickly as Bulleri turned on his quickness in a 2-9 run to get his team within 49-44 after 25 minutes. That difference persisted through an exchange of baskets, but only until Benetton's defense took over and stopped Tau's inside scorers. A basket plus foul by Bulleri gave the lead back to the guests, 54-56 after 28 minutes. After Tau tied on 2 free throes by David, Bulleri raised up and nailed a huge three-pointer to give Benetton a psychological boost and a 56-59 edge afte r30 minutes.
Marconato showed why he is one of the most dominant centers in Europe at the beginning of the last period. He grabbed an offensive rebound, scored a basket and blocked a shot to put Benetton ahead at 56-61 after 31 minutes. Although both squads ran the court like crazy in the next few minutes, not a basket fell until Siskauskas emerged with a jumper and a fastbreak layup that posted a 58-65 score with 5 minutes left. Tau coach Dusko Ivanovic decided to use Calderon and Prigioni together on court, and that worked well as they landed back-to-back three-pointers, reducing the gap to 64-67 after 37 minutes. The temperature rose up in the stands after Marconato committed his fourth foul, but Calderon missed the shot that could have tied the game right after that. Goree and David kept the margin stable, but after a Tau timeout, Benetton played smart, drawing fouls and making free throws to keep Tau behind. Bulleri hit 2 and Siskauskas another 2 to cancel a three-pointer by Conley. With Benetton up 73-75 with 38 seconds left, Soragna drove and was fouled, but hit only 1 of his 2 free throws. That gave Tau a chance to tie with a three-pointer, but Calderon missed an easy layup on the next possession, and Benetton walked walked away with a valuable road win.
Wednesday, November 24, 2004