Barcelona made good on all its preseason promise by firing up an easy 72-84 Group A road win at Pau-Orthez on Thursday to join the first crop of Top 16 qualifiers. A barrage of three-pointers at key moments kept Barcelona ahead by double digits throughout the second half. Now 8-2, Barcelona is assured a spot in the Top 16 because it cannot finish worse than fifth in the group. In fact, Barcelona remains tied for first place with Benetton, a blowout winner over Alba. While stamping its own ticket to the next round, Barcelona severely complicated Pau's chances of getting there. Pau is now 3-7 and two wins behind fifth-place Cibona with four regular season games remaining. Pau had no answers for Barca's offense, which frequently scored at will. Sarunas Jasikevicius made his first 4 three-pointers on the way to a team-high 20 points. Dejan Bodiroga added 15, Gregor Fucka 12 and Patrick Femerling 11. For Pau, Rod Sellers led the way with 20 points, while Boris Diaw-Riffoid and Kyle Hill added 10 each.
Barcelona had an auspicious start to the game as Jasikevicius and Fucka rained back-to-back three-pointers for a quick 1-6 lead. Sellers scored twice, the latter on a fine assist from Lukovski, to chop Pau's deficit to 9-10, but then Bodiroga tried for the early kill. The all-everything Barcelona forward dropped a pair of short jumpers and then stepped out and made one from behind the arc as part of a 1-9 run that pushed the visitors ahead by 10-19. After Fabien Dubos scored for Pau, Bodiroga then made a pass from the floor for a dunk by Patrick Femerling to make it 12-21. Pau looked in trouble on several fronts, but mostly because Barcelona was getting easy shots repeatedly. Now, however, with Kyle Hill coming off the bench to harass Bodiroga, the Pau defense started to change for the better. Barcelona started turning the ball over and missing shots, and with each rebound and steal, Pau went running. Boris Diaw-Riffoid and Hill had fastbreak layups in a 7-0 run to end the quarter and pull the hosts within 19-21.
Hill kept making the home fans happy early in the second quarter, hitting two quick triples, the second of which gave Pau the lead at 27-26. When Diaw reversed a layup and Sellers made a pair at the free throw line, the result of another fastbreak, Pau was looking to pull away at 28-31. To that point, Femerling had accounted for all of Barcelona's baskets in the quarter, making two shots and assisting Fucka on another. Now Fucka copied him with a great pass to Roberto Dueñas for a dunk. Then, after having been part of several turnovers, Rodrigo De la Fuente got a three-pointer right to put Barca back in front, 31-33. Next, Jasikevicius padded the lead with his second three-pointer and assisted Fucka for another open dunk inside. The scoreboard read 35-40, but Barca wasn't finished. Bodiroga hit from the lane, Jasikevicius nailed another from behind the arc and Fucka finished the half with a short jumper. Everything was falling again for the guests, who led now by 8 points, 39-47, headed into the break.
Having lost big leads before in the game, Barcelona went about making sure it didn't happen again in the second half. The visitors went ahead by double-digits on a pair of Dueñas free throws, and when Mikael Pietrus hit a triple for Pau, Barca answered him with a double shot. The first came on the break and off the hand of Juan Carlos Navarro. The second came out of the set offense and some fine perimeter passing to Jasikevicius, his third triple without a miss. The lead was suddenly 15 points, 48-61, halfway through the third period. With Sellers inexplicably on the bench most of the quarter, Frederic Fauthoux tried to bring Pau back with a triple that made it 51-63, but Bodiroga wasn't taking any chances. He finished the quarter with two of his patented inside banks, and then drew a foul on an inbounds play in the final second, making both free throws. His personal 0-6 run made it 51-69.
The fourth quarter started with Nacho Rodriguez making a layup to push the Barca lead to 20 points. There was no suspense after that, despite Pau knocking points off the final margin. Sellers came back and did much of that damage, but Barcelona never let its guard down. The lead was 59-75 halfway through the quarter and teams traded baskets the rest of the way, with 65-82 on the board going into the final minute. Pau was in makeup mode and got the lead down to 12. It looked better for the scoreboard, but all the rewards were going home with the visitors.
Thursday, January 9, 2003