Ulker guaranteed its fans second or third place in Group A by beating Pau-Orthez 77-83 in Pau, France, on Wednesday night for its fifth victory in succession. Ulker improved to 8-5, good enough for at least the third spot in Group A final standings, as the Turkish team was already mathematically into the next round since last week. Meanwhile, Pau-Orthez fell to 5-8 and will have to win its last game and get lucky with other results to see if it gets a ticket to the Top 16. It was a back-and-forth battle in which Ulker clinched a win as its most experienced players, Petar Naumoski, Melvin Booker and Joseph Blair, combined 10 points in the final 2 minutes. Ibrahim Kutluay led the winners with 23 points and 4 assists. Blair had 14 on 7 of 7 two-pointers, Booker added 12 and Efhtimios Rentzias 10 for Ulker. Artur Drozdov led all Pau scorers with 21 points on 5 of 6 three-pointers. Cyril Julian and Laurent Foirest had 12 points apiece, but Foirest added 8 rebounds and 4 assists, while Florent Pietrus chipped in 10 points for the hosts.
Pau surprised its fans before the game, as Dragan Lukovski was replaced by Frederic Fauthoux in the starting lineup. Also on the bench was another regular starter, Mate Skelin. Pau used a small lineup to get an early lead, with strong defense, very physical near the basket. A dunk by Drozdov and a three-pointer by Foirest gave the hosts a 7-4 lead. Ulker finally stroke back, as a two-handed dunk in traffic by Kerem Gonlum ignited a 1-7 run in which Haluk Yildirim hit a three-pointer from the right corner while Gonlum added a put-back to give Ulker an 8-11 lead midway through the first. Once Lukovski and Skelin stepped on court, Pau got back on track. Gonlum and Blair added a basket apiece, but two baskets in the paint by Skelin and two foul shots by Lukovski helped Pau to get a slim lead, 17-15, after 10 minutes.
Ulker trusted its second unit to get the lead, as 5 consecutive points by Rentzias and 3 foul shots by Kutluay helped the guests to get the lead at 22-23. Blair stepped up with a wild dunk and a huge block which sent the ball midcourt, enabling Kutluay to score an easy layup for a 22-27 Ulker lead. The hosts had started to struggle in the offensive end, as a lucky three-pointer off the glass by Nate Erdmann were their only points in more than 2 minutes. Meanwhile, Ulker took over from the foul line, as Pau had entered the foul bonus. Kutluay drilled 4 free throws to extend the guests' lead to 29-37. Florent Pietrus wake Pau up with a two-handed slam and a reverse layup, while Ulker went into deep foul trouble as Blair and Yildirim, who was doing a great defensive job on Foirest, picked up their third foul before halftime. Foirest made an off-balance jumper, but Kutluay drilled one from downtown almost at the buzzer, good enough to give Ulker a 34-40 lead at halftime.
Pau opened the second half with a three-pointer by Drozdov, but Ulker fired back with a 0-10 run, in which Kutluay and Yildirim scored from beyong the arc, enough to extend its lead to 37-50. The guests had Blair resting on the bench after he picked up his fourth foul, and their zone defense excelled as Pau went scoreless for more than 3 minutes. The hosts called timeout and found the way to break Ulker's zone defense. Drozdov singlehandedly took Pau back into the game, as he scored three consecutive three-pointers from the top of the arc, igniting a 11-0 local run as the local fans went crazy. The guests managed to keep the lead, as a mid-range jumper by Rentzias and a three-pointer by Kutluay in front of his defender gave Ulker a 50-55 lead. Foirest answered from downtown in the other end to make it a two-point game at 53-55 entering the fourth.
A jump hook by Cyril Julian and a three-pointer by Pietrus early in the fourth helped Pau to get its first lead since the first half at 58-57. Naumoski, who had been scoreless until then, stepped up to score back-to-back three-pointers, helping Ulker to regain the lead at 62-64 with 6 minutes to go. Both teams exchanged baskets, until Skelin, with a basket and two dunks, made Pau cut Ulker's lead to 70-71 with 2 minutes to go. Naumoski drew a foul and drilled both shots, while a mid-range jumper by Booker extended the guests' lead to 70-75. Drozdov brought Pau back to life with yet another three, but the hosts' defense struggled late in the game, as a layup in penetration by Booker and an easy dunk by Blair helped Ulker to keep its lead. Lukovski made two free throws to make Pau trail by 77-79 with 15.9 seconds to go, but two more from the line by Booker and a final fast break basket by Blair sealed a key win for Ulker.
Wednesday, February 11, 2004