One team's Top 16 dream faded and another's refused to die as Opel Skyliners battled hard to beat Pau-Orthez 81-86 on the road in Group C on Wednesday. Both teams are tied at the bottom of the group with 3-7 records now and stand little chance of making more noise without sweeping the final four games of the regular season. Bernd Kruel was the secret weapon of Opel, dominating in the paint until he fouled out leaving big margins that were only mildly threatened at the end when Laurent Foirest hit late triples for Pau. Kruel led the Skyliners with 21 points, 14 of them in the first half, and 12 rebounds. He was helped by Pascal Roller with 21 points, including 4 of 6 triples. Chris Williams added 20 points and Mljaden Sljivancanin 14 for the winners. For the hosts, Foirest led five players in double digits with 14 points. Mire Chatman added 13, T.J. Lux 12, Artur Drozdov 11 and Julius Nwosu 10.
Nwosu opened fire on the first play for Pau, but it was a few minutes later before either team could get through the strong defenses. It was Nwosu again who broke the drought, and when Foirest joined him, Pau led 6-0. Roller stopped the avalanche with a triple for Opel. The it was time for Williams to appear and cap Opel's own 0-6 run for a 6-6 tie. Nwosu proved too much for the visiting defense still, adding another basket and free throws for a 10-6 Pau lead. On the other end, Thierry Rupert blocked a shot by Williams and Artur Drozdov finished the play with a triple for 13-6 advantage that forced an Opel timeout. Kruel came off the bench and started with 3 points in a 2-8 run for Opel that included Roller's second triple and brought the guests back to within 17-16 after 10 minutes.
Kruel was Opel's most active player on offense in the second quarter, which he opened by giving the guests their first lead, 17-18. Drozdov blasted a new bomb from downtown but Kruel was everywhere, slamming the ball on one play and stealing it on the next play as Opel maintained a 21-22 edge. Opel hed definitely found the way to move the ball and find Kruel underneath. He dunked again for his 14th point and a 23-26 advantage to which Williams added his own basket in the paint. After Fred Fauthoux nailed a triple for the hosts, Pau tried a full-court press defense but Opel found an easy layup against it. Lux now replied from below to tie 30-30. When Nwosu was back on court he scored right away, but Roller's third triple sent the game to halftime with a 32-35 edge for the visitors.
Sljivancanin started his offensive performance in the second half with a triple and Kruel fought its way in the paint to draw a foul and score a free throw for 34-41. Pau struggled offensively while Opel looked comfortable while getting another open triple for Roller, his fourth from downtown, for the first double-digit of the night, 34-46. Thierry Gadou blasted a triple for the hosts to try to diminish the damage but Roller maintained his good shooting percentage at the free throw line. Pau committed its 15th turnover and needed a timeout, after which Chatman dished a layup and added a triple to trim the deficit to single digits again. A block by Lux in the following play allowed him to run the court and slam the ball to cap a 7-0 run that got Pau within 52-56 after 30 minutes.
Lux continued the rally Pau to start the last quarter and pull his team within 54-56, but Gadou was called an unsportsmanlike foul which Opel used to sink 3 free throws, 2 of them by Kruel, who then posted a reverse hook to restore a 54-71 Opel lead. Lux replied him but Kruel continued the duel between big men with his sixth point in a row and then fed Williams in the paint for a dunk and a 61-67 score. Opel received a severe blow when Kruel fouled out just after minute 35. Pau reacted quick as Rupert slammed the ball to bring the house down and get his within 65-69. Opel tried to resist, but Foirest hit a triple and Rupert found another easy dunk to make it 70-73. When Williams scored again and Fauthoux lost the ball, however, Pau needed a timeout with 70 seconds left. Foirest came out and hit a new triple but Ali Kavaklioglu travelled to the stripe to hit both attempts and keep Opel ahead 73-78. It was the last chance for Pau to come back for good but Foirest lost the ball and Williams sealed a fastbreak with a dunk, 73-80, as Opel preserved a big road win.
Wednesday, January 12, 2005