French champions Pau-Orthez yelled its name loudly and clearly on opening night in the Euroleague with a commanding 91-83 Group C victory against visiting CSKA Moscow of Russia on Wednesday. Pau-Orthez started the game perfectly, with great intensity on offense and defense, and didn't really let up the rest of the night. Pau never let the lead come into danger and pushed it as high as 17 points in registering the victory. Claude Bergeaud's players grabbed their first win in the competition and set themselves up as a dangerous outsider in the Group B race.
Young power forward Florent Pietrus showed the way with his great aggressiveness on both ends, helping Pau to an 11-point lead after just 4 minutes, 15-4. CSKA did not manage to organise itself on offense and, above all, could not stop the offensive game of Pau-Orthez. Point guard Curtis McCants, a French League star last season, shook his teammates and the Russians managed to come within 19-12. Gordan Giricek had a good moment for CSKA, but his counterpoint at shooting guard, Roger Esteller, answered in kind with 8 points in the first quarter, which ended with Pau ahead 27-17.
In the second quarter, CSKA tried to put the breaks on Pau with a zone defense, but the home team acquitted itself thanks to some impressive accuracy from the perimeter. Michael Pietrus nailed two consecutive three-point shots, Esteller added one, and the French champions were up by 14, 41-27, after 16 minutes. The French champions controlled the pace of the game and managed to alternate outside and inside plays. CSKA only answered by individual performances, notably by Mirsad Turkcan and Giricek. But Pau-Orthez was unruffled and still had an 11-point lead at halftime, 45-34, with Esteller already up to 15 points.
Pau entered the third quarter with the same intensity. Point guard Dragan Lukovski, replacing injured Vlado Krstic for one month, showed that he had perfectly adapted by scoring his team's first 6 points. Esteller continued his one-man show, especially on fastbreak, and the Elan Bearnais quickly lead by 15, 54-39. But the Russians did not give up. In spite of the poor performances of their inside players, especially from center Roy Rogers, CSKA found solutions on the perimeter with McCants and Giricek. They allowed the Russians to hold on at just 11 down, 62-51, after three quarters.
Esteller made the game his own early in the fourth quarter, scoring eight points to give his team a 19-point lead (76-57). Florent Pietrus added a spectacular two-handed jam on the break: the French team was on the way to its first win in this 2001-02 Euroleague.
Thursday, October 11, 2001