Paf Bologna needed the healthy bodies it could summon in order to turn back Cibona Zagred with an unbelievable fourth-quarter defensive stand that was good for a 76-64 comeback victory. It helped that guard Carlton Myers was back in uniform. He scored 15 points and center Stojan Vrankovic, who missed practice Tuesday, chipped in 12 points, but again it was Gregor Fucka leading Paf with 18 points. Cibona got its top performance from center Mate Skelin, who dropped in 20 points and pulled down a game-high 16 rebounds.
Incredibly enough, Cibona did not score in the last 7 minutes, 30 seconds of the game, after Niksa Prkacin had given it a 58-61 lead. As Cibona finished the game 0-for-11 from the field, a free throw by Myers gave back the lead to Paf at 62-61. Fuck would close the eventual 10-0 run with the basket that put Paf's advantage at 68-61 with 4 minutes remaining. But Myers raised up his shooting hand once again and nailed the three-pointer that made it 71-62 and squeezed the life out of Cibona.
Cibona caught Paf's attention right away, taking a 0-5 lead to start that lengthened to 4-12 just three minutes into the action on a three-pointer by Gordan Giricek. On that play, however, Giricek injured his ankle and had to leave the game 30 seconds later. Paf took that as a signal to strike. They clamped down on Josip Sesar, upon whose shoulder now rested the weight of the Croats' offense, forcing him to go 3 for 11 from the field while mounting a first comeback with a 13-0 run led by Anthony Bowie and Claudio Pilutti. From that early 8-point deficit, Paf had climbed back to lead 24-20 after the quarter.
Even by that time, however, Skelin and Prkacin were getting second opportunities in the paint, as Cibona would snatch 11 offensive rebounds by halftime. Skelin's mastery of the paint would bring back Cibona to lead, 34-39, on his 16 points in the first 17 minutes of play. Arthur Lee and Tuwu Anujobi hit their first baskets as that lead soared to 12 points, 35-47, just before halftime. That's when Paf coach Charlie Recalcati was hit with a echnical foul for protesting, then Anthony Bowie was whistled the fourth foul. Things didn't look good for the home team, as Cibona's run totalled 11-28 over nine minutes. Fucka and Myers started Paf on the long road back, 40-48 by halftime, 45-52 early in the third quarter. ous. Paf, working on the boards more, succeeded in stopping Skelin and actually reached to within a basket of the lead, 52-53, but Cibona succeeded in surviving up to the fourth quarter. But then its energy ran out and Sesar surrendered.
"We have played an awful first half, but we improved a great deal throughout the second one" said Carlo Recalcati, PAF Bologna's coach. Vrankovic closed their penetrations and made defensive rebounding easier for us. Carlton Myers? comeback has been perfect for us. He scored some important baskets, and we shouldn't forget the great defense by Pilutti on Sesar.
Despite the loss, Cibona will go back home to Zagred with a lot more confidence. It was the weakest playoff qualifier with a 3-7 regular season record, but it led a group-winner like Paf on the road in the fourth quarter.
"We have played our best first half of the whole competition" Cibona coach Neven Spahija said. But after that, our game was confusing, just like the decisions taken by the referees. Congratulations to Paf, they were stronger than us in the decisive moments, but I expect to win in Zagreb.
Wednesday, January 31, 2001