Those who know him have been waiting for the day when Igor Rakocevic would explode on the international scene. It happened on Wednesday, and it was enough to give a proud club, Buducnost of Podgorica, its first win of the Euroleague season. Rakocevic capped a 25-point night with an amazing three-pointer from halfcourt at the buzzer as Buducnost shocked Pau-Orthez 87-90 on the road in Group C. Buducnost's lightning-quick point guard had both his speed and his shot Wednesday, penetrating early to keep Buducnost in the game and distribute to teammates. Then he sharpened his shooting stroke, popping for an incredible 17 points in just one quarter, the third, when Buducnost not only got back in the game, but shot ahead in spurts. The game would come down to the stretch with a tie on the board and Rakocevic trying his luck from mid-court. Boom! The shot landed and Buducnost landed in the win column at 1-4. Pau fell to 2-3 as the hunt for fourth place in the group suddenly heated up.
Buducnost, looking for that first win, started the game very aggressively, getting to the line, but only hitting 7 of 14 free throws. The success in getting there was thanks notably to Rakocevic, who drove frequently the lane, dishing assists and playing the pick-and-roll with ease. Pau had to wait for its first fastbreaks and the awakening of its center Rod Sellers to enter the game seriously, and take a 20-16 lead after eight minutes. Buducnost evened it up before Sellers got two foul shots to put the home team up 22-20 at quarter's end.
With its defense bearing down, Pau took off in the second quarter. In the first four minutes, Podgorica scored only one point, losing several balls and failing to get passes or penetration into the paint. Meanwhile, Pau, with four consecutive Mike Pietrus points and a three-pointer of Vladimir Krstic, forged a nine-point gap, 30-21, after 13 minutes. Setting up a zone defense, and finding open shots for Dragan Vukcevic and Vladimir Kuzmanovic, Zoran Stretenovic's team came back to 30-26 three minutes later. This choice of a zone defense turned out to be a great one as Buducnost completed an 0-8 run having taken a 33-34 lead a minute before the half. The Pau point guards chose this moment to put on the show. Dragan Lukovski with a three-point play on a drive, and Fred Fauthoux on an eight-meter-basket that put the home team up 39-34 at the break.
But Buducnost was confident, and to start the third quarter Buducnost played perfectly enough to bolt to a 44-52 lead on an unbelievable 5-18 run. The Pau arena was absolutely stunned. Rakocevic had 10 of those points points, while his teammates Dejan Milojevic and Balsa Radunovic each added big three-point plays. Claude Bergaud, the French coach, took a timeout and his team seemed to react behind Roger Esteller and Sellers. But Rakocevic was unstoppable and hit two more tremendous shots in the following two minutes for a 51-57 Buducnost lead. Rakocevic eventually scored 17 points in this quarter alone. On the other hand, Buducnost had two problems: center Nikola Jetratijevic's fifth foul at the 26th minute and Milojevic fourth's one at the 27th. Just as suddenly, a late surge of the Pietrus brothers and Rod Sellers enabled Pau to take the lead in the last seconds, 65-64.
In spite of a Kuzmanovic long-range hoop, Pau was ahead by 3 after 4 minutes thanks to seven free throws, 72-67. Three minutes later, Pau seemed to have found the solution, imposing its athleticism and drawing fouls to lead 78-71 with 4 minutes left. But the unbelievable happened. In the span of two minuntes, Radonjic hit two three-pointers on the break and Milojevic added one to give the advantage to Buducnost, 78-82. Then both teams decided to foul the opponent systematically. And, after this free-throw contest, the game was tied at 87 with six seconds to play and a Budunost inbouncing. Rakocevic took the ball, crossed his own part of the court, seemed to lose the ball, managed to control it and to shoot from 13 meters at the very buzzer. His magnificent shot went in and the Buducnost players could celebrate their hero.
Wednesday, November 07, 2001