Union Olimpija succeeded in keeping up to speed in the Group A race by beating direct rival Pau-Orthez 84-78 at home in Ljubljana on Thursday night. With the win, Olimpija improves to 4-5 and is tie with Pau-Orthez, AEK and Ulker for fourth place in the Euroleague's tightest group. The first half was close and ended tied, but Olimpija started the second half with a 16-2 run that proved decisive. Dzenan Rahimic was a force for the winners with a double-double of 20 points and 14 rebounds. Marino Bazdaric added 18 points, Roberts Stelmahers 11, Vladimer Boisa and Smiljan Pavic 10 apiece for the winners. For Pau, Dragan Lukovski led the way with 17 points, Mate Skelin added 12 and 10 boards, Frederic Fauthoux contributed 11 and Frederic Dubos chipped in with 10.
All those who expected a tight game in Ljubljana got their share of excitement in the first quarter, as the biggest lead the scoreboard saw was three points. Mate Skelin started the game dominating the paint in offense as he pulled two straight offensive rebounds, but it was Laurent Foirest who tied the score at 4-4. The first triple of Vladimer Boisa put Olimpija ahead by 7-6. Pau-Orthez played a zone defense, even though it was rather unsuccessful in preventing Olimpija players to get inside the paint, and midway through the quarter the score was 8-8. Dragan Lukovski started to take over Pau's offense little by little, as he was also helped by Skelin, while Dzenan Rahimic and Marino Bazdaric stood out for the hosts. Lukovski scored for 12-13 and 14-17 but Bazdaric's tripe tied at 17-17 and Simon Petrov's late jumper tied again after 10 minutes, 19-19.
In the second qaurter, Olimpija seemed to be more organized in offense, as Rahimic climbed to 16 points in the first half thanks to easy layups under the rim. Also, Olimpija shot well from the arc, and with a 4 of 7 after Smiljan Pavic's triple, the hosts took their widest margin up to that point, 33-27. Soon though, Rahimic was called an unsportsmanlike foul while struggling over a rebound with Skelin, but Olimpija got lucky as the center only managed to hit one free throw and turned the ball over in the bonus play, 35-30. However, the best men of Olimpija, Rahimic and Pavic hit four straight points in two consecutive plays, steal included, that boosted Olimpija to a 7-point lead, 39-32. But it was time for Lukovski to break Olimpija's defense one time and another as he scored 6 of Pau's last 8 points in the half to tie the game again with the halftime buzzer, 42-42.
Things changed in the second half in a big way for both teams, but it was Olimpija who took the best part from that. The period started with a 6-0 which Skelin broke with two free throws, but the worse was yet to come, as Olimpija added 10 more straight points to that run, which was 16-2 at the end for a 58-44 score including 7 points by Boisa. Frederic Fauthoux and Lukovski stopped the hosts with style, hitting two straight triples for 58-50, but Olimpija regrouped and stopped it quickly. Rahimic still was the best contributor of his team, and Bazdaric also nailed a three for 63-52. Pau insisted on the zone defense despite the relative success of Olimpija from the distance, and after 30 minutes the hosts led by 65-54.
The difference in three-point shooting was 6 of 13 for the hosts to 2 of 13 for Pau, and that proved decisive in the end, as Orthez's precentage progressed to a final 4 of 20, while Olimpija improved to a 7 of 16. Roberts Stelmahers was the protagonist of Olimpija in the last quarter, and Foirest tried to mirror him. Successful defensive plays that ended with blocks on each side, brought the game to a 77-67 with three minutes and a half to go. With two free throws, Lukovski hit a 79-71 and Artur Drozdov bagged two more fot 79-73, but that was all. The guests committed some fatal mistakes while trying to run in the last plays and Olimpija only had to seal the win from the free throw line, despite a last triple by Fauthoux which arrived too late.
Thursday, January 15, 2004