After losing its first three games by a total of seven points, Pau-Orthez took no chances in Athens on Thursday as it led early and never looked back in downing hosts AEK 71-83. Pau, which led by as many as 24 points, raised its record to 1-3 in Group A, the same as AEK, which cut the deficit all the way down to 5 points with 3 minutes to play, but got no closer. Laurent Foirest led a three-point assault early in the game and finished as the high scorer for the winners, with 23 points. Dragan Lukovski added 15 for Pau and Mate Skelin 12. For AEK, Horace Jenkins returned three weeks after a car accident looking strong as ever with 29 points. Quadre Lollis added a double-double of 13 points and 12 rebounds, while Christos Tapoutos chipped in 10 points.
From the very start of the game, Pau-Orthez proved itself to be a team that does not deserve the last spot in Group A. Showing great balance between the front line and the perimeter, the French champs took an early 3-8 lead as Lukovski and Foirest dropped in big three-pointers. And after that, when AEK managed to tie the game and even take a short 12-10 lead, it was big men Cyril Julian and Mate Skelin who stepped up to assure a 15-20 lead for the visitors after 10 minutes. On the other hand, AEK was missing its captain, Nikos Hatzis, due to an Achilles tendon injury and had its point guard Horace Jenkins back in a Euroleague game for the first time in 20 days. Jenkins was hot at the beginning, scoring 6 points in the first quarter, while Christos Tapoutos showed some of his talent adding 6 more points for the Yellows.
Foirest had a huge impact in the second period, too! His second three-pointer gave Pau-Orthez a nine-point lead, 23-32, midway the second quarter and his third in four attempts boosted his team to a dominating 25-39 lead. Foirest finished the first half with 17 points, while forward Artur Drozdov added 8 points plus 5 rebounds. AEK was still led by Jenkins who offered 15 points, but he was pretty alone, since he got some offensive help only from Tapoutos who tried to break the French defense with his penetrations. But without addition help in stopping the Pau-Orthez shooters, AEK could not trim the lead significantly. Pau's 35-47 lead at half break was the result of spectacular and fast basketball from both teams that the fans certainly appreciated.
Pau-Orthez used the third period to run away some more from the hosts. The French champions kept raining triples - 3 more making a 7-for-10 total - which spartked a 2-12 run to a huge 37-59 lead. When the lead touched 23 a couple times, AEK decided to react. The Yellows ran off on a 9-1 spurt to trim the deficit to 49-64 in minute 29. Foirest and Lukovski continued to do their job perfectly, however, and now Skelin and Fabien Dubos offered some offensive solutions to Orthez. AEK tried to use young center Blagota Sekulic, who was effective under the boards, while Jenkins was still there to execute and organize, but the locals faced an uphill battle down 66-49 with only 10 minutes left.
AEK saved all its energy for the last quarter, mounting an incredible 14-2 run to cut the Pau-Orthez advantage to just 5 points, 63-68, with 3 minutes remaining. AEK went inside to Lollis, Sekulic and Pero Antic to get most of those points, while Jenkins kept hot on the perimeter. But that was it. Pau still had something left, and with Skelin scoring the next 4 points in a row, made its own run of 4-11 run to assure its first win in four Euroleague games.
Thursday, November 27, 2003
Kostas Sotiriou, Athens