Group E has a winner and its name is Skipper Bologna! Skipper needed a win to make it to the Final Four, and clinched that prize by the minimum on Wednesday, the last night of the Top 16, beating Pau-Orthez 80-81 on the road in a thriller. Milos Vujanic became Skipper's hero, drilling 2 free throws with 3.8 seconds to go to lift the guests straight to the Final Four in Tel Aviv starting April 29! Gianluca Basile led the winners with 18 points on 6 of 7 two-pointers and 2 of 4 threes, stepping up like the team's true leader when Skipper needed him. Hanno Mottola added a double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds, while Carlos Delfino added 16 points and Vujanic 13. For Pau, which missed 2 free throws in the final 20 seconds, Dragan Lukovski led the way 18 points, before missing a shot to try to win the game at the buzzer. Florent Pietrus had 17 points on 4 of 6 two-pointers and 3 of 3 threes, Laurent Foirest 14 and Koko Archibong 10 for the hosts.
It took Delfino 5 seconds to slam the first basket of the game, while Mottola drilled a three-pointer in Skipper's 0-5 opening run. Pau did not waste time to come back, and used a 10-0 run in which Foirest had 7 points and Frederic Fauthoux drilled one from downtown to give the hosts a 10-5 lead after 3 minutes. Skipper called timeout, but Pau kept a slim lead due to its good shot selection and balanced offense. Mottola became Skipper's go to guy, scoring 5 points make Skipper regain the lead at 13-14, after a free throw by Matjaz Smodis. Both teams improved their defense in the final minutes of the first, and a layup in penetration by Artur Drozdov and a three-meter jumper by Koko Archibong gave Pau a 21-19 lead after 10 minutes.
The guests switched to zone defense in the second quarter and tried to be more aggressive. It paid off, as Pau missed its 4 opening shots in this period, while a basket by A.J. Guyton and a dunk in traffic by Mottola tied the game at 23-23. Pau's first field goal in this quarter was a wild dunk by Drozdov, but Basile answered with a fallaway jumper and a three to make Skipper regain the lead at 26-28. Pau called timeout, and both teams started to exchange baskets at full speed. Pietrus slammed it coming off the baseline to bring Pau within 32-33, and even when Skipper went on a 0-7 run in which Delfino had 5 points, a three by Archibong and a fake-and-shoot jumper by Pietrus cut the guests' lead to 37-40 at halftime.
Pau failed to take the lead even when Pietrus tied the game at 42-42 early in the third, and Skipper took over with a layup by Gianmarco Pozzecco, which Mottola followed with a huge three-point play and a bomb from downtown, enough to extend the guests' lead to 45-54 after 25 minutes. Pau called timeout and returned to the game with back-to-back threes by Lukovski and Pietrus which made it a three-point game at 51-54. Skipper had troubles against Pau's 2-3 zone defense, while an acrobatic layup by Lukovski turned into a three-point play which brought the hosts within 55-56. Basile and Lukovski each scored 5 points in the final 2 minutes, but a floating layup by Vujanic gave Skipper a 60-63 lead entering the fourth.
Skipper called red alert as a basket in the low post by Cyril Julian and a three by a highly-energized Pietrus tied the game at 65-65. Only Vujanic scored for Skipper in 4 minutes, and even when Pau also struggled in offense, a free throw by Julian tied the game again at 57-57 with 5 minutes to go. The game turned into a real thriller, with both teams hustling for every ball. Basile stepped up big in crunch time with back-to-back baskets which Archibong erased on the other end, and added a free throw to give Pau its first lead since the second period at 72-71 after 37 minutes. Skipper called timeout, but Pietrus stepped up with a big three from the top of the arc, and even when a cost-to-coast layup by Delfino tied the game again at 75-75, that didn't stop Pau. Julian added a three-point play to make Pau enter the final minute up by 78-77, after yet another layup by Basile. Lukovski and Basile exchanged turnovers, and Fauthoux drew a foul and made just one free throw for a 79-77 Pau lead. Delfino tied the game from the line, 79-79, with 15 seconds to go, and he quickly fouled Lukovski, who made 1 of 2 for a 80-79 Pau lead. Skipper almost turned the ball over, but Vujanic drew a foul with 3.8 seconds to go, and drilled both attempts for give Skipper a 80-81 lead. Lukovski had the final shot of the game, but his long layup rimmed off. Skipper players started to celebrate, as the guests took a thriller and made it to the Final Four!
Wednesday, April 7, 2004