The Euroleague started in Croatia with a thriller on Thursday night, as Cibona VIP survived a late 0-12 rally from Pau-Orthez to cling to a 72-71 victory in Group A. Two missed free throws by Florent Pietrus with three seconds left were followed by second and third chances by Pau, but everything before the buzzer missed and Cibona escaped. The hosts, under a good leadership by Scoonie Penn and the accuracy by Andrija Zizic, managed to build comfortable leads throughout the first half, but after resumption, Pau came back strong and in the last minutes an explosive Frederic Fauthoux almost gave the win to the guests. Penn led Cibona with 13 points and Zizic added 12. For Pau, Nate Erdmann was the best scorer with 15 points, Artur Drozdov added 12 and Florent Pietrus bagged 11. With the win, Cibona begins in group A with a 1-0, and of course, Pau-Orthez has to deal with a 0-1 start.
Cibona showed its weapons early falling back 2-4 on Laurent Foirest's jumper. Cibona answered with an overwhelming 13-0 run as Penn scored 6 straight points and injected speed to the hosts' game. Slaven Rimac was also very active now, and he formed a productive trio with Jurica Golemac and Penn. Pau-Orthez coach Fred Sarre had to call a timeout to stop the Croatians, and Erdmann opened the scoring flow for Pau again. Nonetheless, Cibona came up big as first Rimac from the arc, and later Matej Mamic with a three-point play earned Cibona a 21-6 lead. Finally, Pau recovered in time to cut the deficit to 26-14 after 10 minutes.
The second quarter saw Zizic storm onto the court and score 8 points in only 6 minutes. Drozdov headed the efforts of Pau-Orthez by hitting the layup off his own offensive rebound after a triple try, but Cibona would always be ahead comfortably. Pau's poor percentages from the long range (2 of 7 triples against 3 of 4 by Cibona) didn't allow the visitors to make a move, even though Mate Skelin tried his best under the rims. It was no use, however, as Zizic scored almost everything he shot. Only 2 free throws by Drozdov kept Pau within single digits, 43-34, at halftime.
Pau came back strong from the break with tight defense and a great Erdmann, whose three-pointer preceded a Florent Pietrus dunk that made it 44-42. Erdmann also autographed the three-pointer that put the guests ahead, 46-47. Zizic's turnaround jumper on Skelin plus foul shot gave some air to Cibona, but Drozdov replied with his own three-point play. Penn controlled all Cibona's plays from beginning to end, and that was a good thing for his team as another basket by him, plus a fastbreak culminated by Josip Sesar, gave the hosts a six-point lead again, 58-52. After 30 minutes, the game was ready to go into the decisive quarter with Cibona in control, 60-53.
Cibona coach Drazen Anzulovic sat Penn to begin the last period, but it didn't imply a major change on what happened on court. Marijan Mance first with 5 points, and later Barisa Krasic with 8 straight points from 2 three-pointers and a fastbreak, gave Cibona a 72-59 leading edge which seemed decisive. Instead, Erdmann hit a triple to start Pau's comeback. Cibona started missing triples, and despite pulling the offensive rebounds, the Croatians missed nearly all their second en even third chances. Erdmann soared again from the arc to finish a 0-12 run sparked by Fauthoux that put their team now as close as 62-57. With less than 2 minutes to go, Fauthoux hit free throws for 72-69 and then finished a fastbreak that got Pau within 72-71 and seconds to go. Golemac took Cibona's next shot but missed, and Fauthoux pulled the offensive board and passed the ball to Pietrus who was fouled by Golemac with 3 seconds to go. Pietrus had the win in his hands, but missed both attempts. Fauthoux appeared again for the offesnive rebound but he first and later Cyril Julian missed the last two jumpers that could have given Pau the win. Only when the buzzer sounded could Cibona breathe again after its easy game turned anxious in the last period.
Thursday, November 6, 2003
Neven Berticevic, Zagreb