At the halfway point in the regular season, Pau-Orthez of France carved a spot for itself in the thick of the Group B race by stealing an 84-93 road win at Krka Novo Mesto in Slovenia on Thursday. The victory assures Pau of a third-place tie at 4-3 with either Skipper Bologna or CSKA Moscow, who were playing later Thursday. It also drops Novo Mesto to 2-5 overall despite its having beaten both group leaders, Real Madrid and Panathinaikos. Didier Gadou was the timeliest of shooters for the winners, launching the three-pointer that gave Pau its first lead on the last play of the third quarter, then starting the fourth with another long-distance strike that kept Krka on its heels the rest of the way. Dragan Lukovski led the winners with 20 points. Roger Esteller and Rod Sellers added 19 each. Boris Gnjidic led Krka with 22, while Mate Skelin added 19 and Dragisa Drobnjak 16.
Dragan Lukovski, the point guard back by popular demand with Pau, scored the opening two point and it turned out to be an early omen. Lukovski would score 9 by the end of the quarter as Pau showed right away it wasn't going to back down on Krka's court. Mate Skelin and Boris Gnjidic kept Krka close at 9-10 after five minutes. Gnjidic was also doing a good job on Pau's leading scorer, Roger Esteller. Krka seized a five-point lead at 18-13 but in one minute's worth of fastbreaks, Pau tied it. Then Krka's leading scorer, point guard Jaka Lakovic, committed his third foul and was replaced by Vladimir Anzulovic. The home team was able to close out strong for a 28-22 led with Skelin and Gnjidic responsible for 12 points each, almost the whole first-quarter total.
Krka was able to maintain its five-point lead through several minutes of the second quarter as captain Samo Grum took over the scoring chores. The lead bumped up to seven points before stabilizing at 41-36 halfway through the quarter as Rod Sellers and Esteller of Pau just would not let the deficit grow any bigger. With scoreboard showing 48-43 with three minutes until the half, Krka coach Ales Pipan decided to play centers Skelin and Nemanja Jelisijevic side by side, which resulted in another seven-point lead, 54-47. Anzulovic finished off the first 20 minutes with a nice three-pointer to give the home team its biggest margin thusfar, 57-48, heading into the lockerrooms.
Grum had tallied 14 points in the quarter to tie Skelin and Gnjidic in Krka's scoring column, but the top gun on the floor was again Esteller, who was up to 16 for Pau. Sellers had 13 and Lukovski 11.
Pau opened the second half very well, holding Krka scoreless for two-and-a-half minutes while reducing the deficit to 57-53. Now, the visitors were fully engaged, even though Lakovic's return to the floor coincided with the lead returning to six, 63-57, Pau remained in touch. For each Krka basket, Pau answered until in the final minute, Didier Gadou found the ball in his hands on the wing and nailed a long-distance three-pointer to cap an excellent quarter for Pau. The visitors suddenly had their first lead since the early going, 67-70, at the end of three quarters.
When Gadou began the fourth quarter with another three-pointer, the visitors stared getting confortable. Now it was Krka that had to catch up, but Pau kept boosting its lead, to 69-77 and onward to 71-79 with six minutes left. Krka's best opportunity to regain points came with 90 seconds left when Gnjidic nailed a three to pull the hosts within 77-83. Next thing you know, he was scoring again and the deficit was suddenly just 81-84 with 50 seconds left. That is where the comeback was exhausted, however. Two Krka players left with fifth fouls and Pau hit its free throws to sock away the big road win.
Thursday, December 6, 2001
Jernej Tisu, Novo Mesto