Defending champion Barcelona became the first team to assur its presence in the Top 16 after beating injury-plagued Pau-Orthez 81-69 at home in Group A on Wednesday. Barca improved to 8-2 and will be assured first place with a couple more victories. Pau fell to 4-6 and will have lots of work now to make it to the Top 16. Pau was without its starting backcourt, point guard Dragan Lukovski and shooter Nate Erdmann, while Barca saw the Euroleague return of Dejan Bodiroga, who had missed the previous month with an injury. Bodiroga was Barcelona's scoring leader with 17 points, while Vlado Ilievski chipped in 11 and 3 assists and Juan Carlos Navarro 10 points. Pau-Orthez was led by Lorent Foirest's 24 points, while Fabien Fauthoux scored 11 and Mate Skelin had 9 points and 7 rebounds. Pau was missing Lukovski's floor leadership, as it recorded just 6 assists versus 20 turnovers. Barca used strong second and third quarters to build a double digit lead that proved to be insurmountable for Pau down the stretch.
Fucka gave Barcelona their first lead at 8-6 with a dunk, but Foirest, a well known player in Spain after his good years at Tau Ceramica, scored seven points in the first five minutes, though Barca held a 10-9 advantage. Svetislav Pesic changed three players, putting in De la Fuente, Anderson and Dueñas, but his team did not respond the way he hoped, and Pau took over the lead behind Foirest's shooting. After the French swingman, who had 12 points in the opening stanza, scored his second three-pointer, Pau took its biggest lead, 19-22, in the last minute of the quarter. Barca struck back before the buzzer, though, and the score was 21-22 after 10 minutes of play.
The second quarter started in the same way as the first, with both teams playing a quick pace and scoring almost at win. When Bodiroga re-entered the game he wrestled back the control for Barca. The Spanish side proceeded to go on a 11-0 run, which ended when Pau coach Frederic Sarre called a time out following De la Fuente's triple, which gave Barcelona a 34-24 lead. Without starting point guard Dragan Lukovski, the French side had trouble controlling the pace of the game. Barcelona took a 38-26 lead in the 17th minute, while Pau was doomed also at the free throw line, where it missed all five of its free throws. Pau's offense was reignited somewhat during the closing minutes of the half, as closed the deficit to 43-35 behind more offensive work from Foirest and Cyril Julian.
The French side got off to a solid start in the third quarter, pulling to within 47-41, but Barcelona increased its lead to 49-41 on a Navarro basket in the 24th minute. Navarro struck again, this time from three-point range, and put Barca ahead 54-43 in the 26th minute. Pau struggled to keep pace with Barca's perimeter attack and Ilievki knocked down two triples followed by a Bodirgoa basket that gave the hosts their biggest lead, 65-50, at the end of the third quarter.
Pau fell out of contention early in the fourth quarter when they failed to score over the first 4 and a half minutes. By the time Fauthoux knocked down a three-pointer for Pau's first points of the quarter, Barcelona had climbed to a 72-50 game and there was little chance for the visitors to catch up. Not long after, Barcelona coach Pesic put its youngest players out on the court to gain some valuable playing time. Youngsters Victor Sada and Marc Gasol each scored baskets in the final four minutes despite playing against Pau's first string players and Barca cruised to a commanding 81-69 win.
Wednesday, January 21, 2004