An inspired Roger Esteller led Elan Bearnais Pau-Orthez to an inspired 86-69 victory over visiting Skipper Bologna on Thursday in Group C before 6,000 delighted fans. Esteller was relentless in picking apart the Skipper defense for 31 points, while Gregor Fucka could not reciprocate with his injured hand. The French champions led early and often en route to their first win following a three-game losing losing streak. At 3-3, the same as Skipper, Pau is right back in contention for one of Group C's top four spots. Skipper got 20 points from Marko Milic but was hurt by Gregor Fucka's ineffectiveness due to his thumb injury.
As expected, Fucka was replaced in the starting five by Giacomo Galanda. The Italian team entered the game slowly (0-4) as Pau-Orthez proved more aggressive, especially Esteller and Lukovski on the drive. Accurate on the free throw line, Pau took a little lead (18-13), but the entry of Fucka and Savic, both efficient in the paint,enabled Skipper to remain in the game at 22-19 after 10 minutes.
The beginning of the second period was tense. Skipper's bench received a technical foul in the first minute and Mike Pietrus, with an outstanding dunk in the traffic, gave Pau-Orthez a six-point margin, 25-19. The visitors reacted with a 12-2 run. Fucka, Milic and Celestand had their good moments and Skipper was ahead for the first time of the game 34-38. Esteller scored three consecutive baskets for Pau but Milic was also very hot (10 points in the quarter). On the last action of the period, Vasco Evtimov took the offensive rebound and gave his team a one point lead, 43-44.
The mano a mano between Esteller and Milic continued at the beginning of the third quarter. Esteller scored the first 6 points for Pau, and Milic the first four for Skipper. Pau stepped up its tempo and inflicted a 10-2 run to dig the biggest margin of the game (59-50). Milic remained the only source of offense for the visitors as Pau-Orthez could rely on its young guns, Florent Pietrus and Boris Diaw. Claude Bergeaud's boys drove another 10-2 run to a 71-57 lead after 30 minutes. Skipper was nearly KO.
Skipper tried to come back in final courter by shooting threes, but missed its first four attempts from the perimeter. Both teams remained scoreless for a while and Pau-Orthez stabilised its lead around 15 points. Skipper's American point guard John Celestand shot a symbolic airball behind the arc as Andrea Meneghin, invisible in this game, was fouled out at the 25th minute. The Esteller show continued all the way. He finally scored 31 points to help Pau-Orthez break its three-game losing streak. Milic was the top scorer for the losers with 20 points.
Thursday, November 15, 2001