With only three regular season games remaining, Pau-Orthez of France has found its way into a third-place tie in Group C thanks to a huge 78-74 win over visiting Real Madrid on Thursday. The victory lifts Pau's record to 6-5, the same as CSKA Moscow, and one victory ahead of both Krka Novo Mesto and Fortitudo Bologna. Madrid (8-3) lost its first road game of the season and its chance to qualify officially for the Top 16. Fighting both Pau and its 8,000 fans, Madrid had its hands full from buzzer to buzzer, though it held the game's largest lead, seven points, early in the second half. Florent Pietrus led the winners with 18 points on slashes to the basket while Roger Esteller added 17. Alberto Herreros led Madrid with 17.
With great defensive pressure, Pau-Orthez quickly took control of the game in the first quarter. Meanwhile, Florent Pietrus and Dragan Lukovski nailed their team's first nine points to put the French champions ahead 9-4 after 4 minutes. As could be expected, Real Madrid came back in the game thanks to its inside power. Zan Tabak and Eric Sruelens combined for 12 points in the paint durint the quarter, whittling away little by little at every attempt by Pau to improve it lead. When 10 minutes were done, Pau's lead was down to two points, 20-18, thanks in great part to Florent Pietrus, who already had 11 points.
Unfortunately for the hosts, the elder Pietrus brother immediately received two fouls in the first minute of the second quarter. He was replaced by veteran Derrick Lewis. With the entry of Dragan Tarlac, Real Madrid continued its work in the paint. The Yugoslav center scored five points in a row and the Spanish team took the lead thanks to a 6-0 run (20-24). However, Real Madrid did not manage to dig a real margin. Both defences were strong and the game remained very close. On a last basket signed Dusan Vukevic, the Spaniards were up by two at halftime (33-35). Alberto Herrerros was the leading scorer for the "Merengue" (7 points), while Florent Pietrus had 11 for Pau.
The game remained unchanged at the beginning of the third quarter: great defensive pressure and poor accuracy from the perimeter for both teams. Nevertheless, thanks to its physical strength in the key, notably that of Zan Tabak, Madrid seized the biggest of the game, 39-46. Dominated by the Spanish team's centers until then, Rod Sellers reacted in a spectacular way, scoring nine points in a row. Pau-Orthez was back in the game at the end of the third quarter at 50-50.
Pushed by the crowd, the French champions stepped up their offensive level and completed a 9-2 run in the first three minutes of the final period to lead 61-52. Boris Diaw and Florent Pietrus signed two stratospheric shots that seemed to knock Madrid aback. But the Spanish team did not give up. Not so efficient thusfar, Sasha Djordjevic woke up with 9 points in the last period and brought his team back to within 62-60. The end of the game was a thriller. Pau-Orthez was always ahead, but Madrid remained dangerous until the very last seconds. Thanks to its accuracy from the foulline, the French team finally resisted all the way.
Thursday, January 17, 2002