The suspense lasted until the end of the last regular season game, but after holding off Lottomatica's courageous efforts for 40 minutes, Pau-Orthez earned a 73-80 triumph and a ticket to the Top 16 from Group A on Thursday. Pau finished in a four-way tie at 6-8 for fifth place in Group A, but based on their slim advantage in head-to-head matchups, the French club accomplished its mission of arriving at the Top 16, finishing ahead of AEK and Partizan. Lottomatica ended its Euroleague campaign with a 4-10 mark. Laurent Foirest led Pau with 18 points, while Frederic Fauthoux scored 14, Dragan Lukovski 12 and four other players at least 8 points. Marko Tusek was Lottomatica's high-man with 18 points and 10 rebounds, while newcomer Vincenzo Esposito debuted with 14 points and Johnny Branch added 13. Lottomatica played without injured regulars Carlton Myers and Lubos Barton.
Mate Skelin opened the scoring for Pau, but Alessandro Tonolli drilled the first triple to give Lottomatica a 7-4 margin. Tusek extended Lottomatica's lead to 9-4 before a pair of free throws by Dragan Lukovski kicked off a 0-9 Pau run capped by Foirest with the guests ahead 9-13. Five straight points by Branch and a triple by Davide Bonora sent the lead back to Lottomatica, 17-16, after 8 minutes. Baskets were exchanged until the quarter ended with Rashard Griffith dropping in an easy layup for Lottomatica to tie the score at 24-24.
Koko Archibong's work on the offensive boards provided Pau with a 24-26 cushion, but Branch replied his own 5-0 run for Lottomatica, which now led 29-26. Fauthoux reacted immediately with a triple and moments later Cyril Julian gave the guests a 32-38 cushion. Skelin added to the Pau lead when he connected on 2 free throws. Alexander and Foirest battled back and forth, each nailing a triple, but Alexander had the better of the exchange and his basket cut Roma's deficit to 39-46 at the end of the first half.
Tusek caught fire with 5 straight points to begin the third period, further cutting Pau's lead to 44-47. Lukovski nailed a pair from the foul line while Artur Drozdov scored from close range to pump Pau's lead back to 46-51. Lottomatica's newest addition, the veteran bomber Esposito, did what he does best, nailing a triple that cut the deficit to 51-53. Julian and Tusek exchanged baskets in the paint, but Julian continued for 6 straight points to extend Pau's edge to 51-57 after 36 minutes. Tusek cut the deficit to 55-59, but Pau was dominant on the glass and a three-pointer by Archibong raised the margin to 55-64. Pau's lead briefly touched double figures, but Griffith slammed to end the third quarter with 57-66 on the scoreboard.
Foirest opened the final quarter by giving Pau a double-digit lead and suddenly the Top 16 was suddenly tasted real to the French club. Lottomatica refused to give in, however, and three straight baskets by Bonora, Esposito and Branch brought Roma back within 63-68. Pau commited a series of turnovers and Lottomatica took advantage again, as Tonolli nailed the three-pointer that made the score 67-68. Pau finally got its second basket of the quarter, from Lukovski, and Foirest followed it with a short jumper that gave the visitors breathing room at 68-72. After both sides failed to put points on the board, Lottomatica called a timeout to discuss strategy. But it was Foirest who came out of the break with a triple that put Pau ahead 68-75. Lottomatica was unable to get off the canvas after that, even though Tusek drilled a triple. On Pau's next possession, Fauthoux drew a three-shot foul and knocked down all three attempts, making the score 71-78, too much for Lottomatica to overcome.
Thursday, February 19, 2004
Alessio Ditta, Rome