It was tough, difficult and sometimes ugly, but you have to take what comes your way. For most of the game, Cibona was behind. But a late charge broke down Pau-Orthez, and once the door was open, Cibona took a huge step through to a 66-62 victory and a clear view of its goal, the Top 16. With its second consecutive victory against teams fighting for the same goal, Cibona improved to 5-4 to join a three-way tie for third place in Group A with Efes and Skipper. More importantly, Cibona distanced itself from Pau-Orthez (3-6), whose losing streak stretched to four games despite leading for almost 30 minutes in Zagreb and being tied in the last half-minute. Slaven Rimac put Cibona ahead on free throws with 17 seconds left, but Pau turned over its final possession and Haris Mujezinovic ended up dunking to seal the victory for the home team. Niksa Prkacin had 13 points to lead the winners, while Mujezinovic, Rimac and Davor Kus finished with 10 each. Rod Sellers, who had not been expected to play, led Pau with 17 points. Dragan Lukovski added 13 and Frederic Fauthoux 10.
Pau-Orthez was leading most of the way, but never by more than 9 points. Both teams strugled on offense. Most of the time they could not even buy points. Cibona made only 1 three-pointer in the first half (1-for-8) and had no player reach double figures. Almost nothing fell from outside. For almost 8 minutes bridging first and second quarter, Cibona went without a field goal at all. So Pau made its run at the begining of the second quarter, with Cyril Julien scoring 4 straight points and Artur Drozdov connecting twice from downtown. They gave Pau its biggest lead at 34-25, which held at 7 points, 29-36, at the half.
Rimac practically erased that deficit single-handedly, scoring 6 straight points at the start of the third quarter, but Pau stood it's ground. Lukovski had no problems with his late arrival to Zagreb on Thursday morning due to visa problems. It did not show, at least not in the first three quarters. Pau-Orthez was still up by 4 points at the end of the third period, 46-50. For Cibona it was time to make or break. The bad news for the home fans was that Nikola Prkacin picked up his fourth foul: the good news, Cibona could not keep shooting as badly as the 1 out of 10 three-point shots it made in the first three quarter.
The change came when needed most, n the fourth quarter. Prkacin played a great 10 minutes, scoring and defending while avoiding his fifth foul. Finally, the home team made a run. Pau was up 54-50 when Cibona took off on a 10-0 burst that proved fatal for the French team. Barisa Krasic and Davor Kus connected from downtown. Then Prkacin and Krasic added two-point shots. Pau for almost 7 minutes made only 2 field goals, both by Sellers. Cibona was in the driving seat at 60-55, but it was never to be that easy. Prkacin failed to score from the line and Fauthoux, fouled on a three-point attempt, made all the free throws. Cibona was hanging on to a slim lead, 62-60. Kus now missed 2 shots from the line and Sellers tied i, 62-62, 25 secoond before the end. Rimac was fouled with 17 second left and put Cibona up 64-62. Pau had the chance to send the game to overtime or go home with the win. But the guests never took a shot. A turnover by Fathoux sealed the deal for Cibona and Mujezinovic made sure with a dunk at the buzzer.
Thursday, December 19, 2002
Neven Berticevic, Sportske Novosti, Zagreb