Today, I arrived in Vilnius to cover the U18 European Championship of Division A. The main spotlight will of course be on the Top 8 teams but I will try to see every team once. The day started with the Quarter-Finals in the Siemens Arena of Vilnius.
France – Russia
Russia was very impressive so far in this tournament and they were considered as favorites for this first Quarter-Final. However, Yarone Arbel reminded me that Russia has never advanced to the semi-finals of a U18 European Championship. So everything was possible and Russia took the lead right from the start. However, France fought back in a low-scoring first quarter where the impressive length of Rudy Gobert was a big asset in defense. But Vladislav Trushkin continued to score from behind the arc and forced the French to play their best basketball. Lambert Diacono added some points coming from the bench while Hugo Invernizzi still tried to find his shot. At halftime, France was up 30-26.
“Les Bleus” continued to lead throughout the third quarter where Invernizzi started to gain confidence from behind the arc but Dimitry Kulagin answered his shots with threes of his own. The teams traded three-pointers at one moment and Russia could take a short lead in the final minutes. But France came back and it was Mathis Keita who went to the FT line with a few seconds left and a 1 point deficit. He scored the first one and Gobert took the offensive rebound on the future Gonzaga player’s second miss. Gobert got fouled but missed his two shots and Russia had a last chance which they missed.
In the overtime, the team around Gleb Goldyrev took a quick lead which the French could never reduced as they tried twice to find Gobert in the low-post on difficult passes. At +5 and Russia going to the line, the Russian head coach got an extremely stupid Technical foul which created a last-second chance for France. Sergey Karasev missed the first free-throw but scored the second one. +6 Russia and Invernizzi went to the line, but missed the second one. On the following inbound play, France could not get the ball to the player they wanted and Hugo Naurais had to take the kamikaze drive which did not work out. Russia advanced to the semi-finals.
MVP: Vladislav Trushkin 22pts (6/15 3FGs) 9rebs 4stls 1blk
Latvia – Croatia
The Latvian team impressed quite a lot of people with their pleasant play throughout the tournament and they continued their nice run in the Quarter-Finals by eliminating Croatia and reaching the semi-Finals. The motivation of playing a U19 World Championship at home is probably another boost for them and with their qualification, it means that the first 6 teams of this championship will be present next summer in Latvia. The Latvians started strong into the game behind some scoring of the long Davis Bertans who showed his great talent and versatility in the first minutes. He got some good support by the athletic Janis Timma and Croatia suffered a 0-9 scoring run. Dario Saric tried his best but he was not enough even if he had 8 quick points. During the second quarter, Latvia increased their lead to 17 points and the game was mostly done already.
In the second half, Croatia tried to use the absence of a Latvian big guy by putting the ball consequently into the low post where Boris Barac played with his back to the basket.But the team from the Balkan could not really cut the lead and most of their efforts were stopped by Latvian scores. The 20+ fans from the Baltic country continued to cheer while the Lithuanian fans started to enter the arena for the upcoming Quarter-Final. In the end, Latvia won easily 78-56 and reached the semi-finals of the U18 European Championship.
MVP: Davis Bertans 17pts (3/7 2FGs 3/7 3FGs) 10rebs 4asts
Lithuania – Greece
Both teams started very nervous in the game and nobody could take an early lead. The Greeks tried to stop Jonas Valanciunas with a physical defense closing him every attempt to go on his right hand. On the other side, Linos Chrysikopoulos lead the Blues and created a multitude of opportunities for himself or his team mates. Dovydas Redikas continued to score and Lithuania was up 19-16 after the first ten minutes. Edgaras Ulanovas started to take care of Chrysikopoulos and the Baltic team could make a first little break at 26-19. Greece started to force one-on-one situations and Lithuania could score on the fast break to increase their lead to 12 points. With Chrysikopoulos on the bench, the Greek team played some kind of small ball but it did not really help as Lithuania was driven by Redikas who put the lead up to 16 points at the half.
In the beginning of the 3rd quarter, Greece remained in the game behind the several offensive efforts of Chrysikopoulos. Therefore, the advantage continued to be 14 points until several bad choices on offense and a three pointer by Deividas Pukis gave Lithuania the biggest lead at 57-38 with 2min30 to go in the third quarter. Pukis was now on fire and increased the lead nearly all by himself to 67-42 before the last ten minutes. Greece had not a lot give anymore than playing time to their bench in order to save energy for the 5th-8th place games. The lead increased to 73-44 with 6 minutes to go and the game ended 84-51 for the hosts.
MVP: Jonas Valanciunas 10pts (8/10 FTs) 17rebs 2stls 2blks
Serbia – Poland
Poland had some problems to come really in the game and when their starting PG had already 3 fouls after 5 minutes with a 10-5 advantage for Serbia, it did not look good for the U17 Silver Medal winner. Serbia continued to play a full-court press and put the Polish guards in trouble to bring the ball over mid-court. But Mateusz Ponitka was increasing his level and brought his team back at 14-14. Serbia grabbed back the lead with Djordje Drenovac taking over and the teams went to the first break at 22-18. Ponitka continued to do what he wanted, scoring two more triples and the game was tied again at 26. Ponitka had a couple of misses but Serbia could not get the lead back as they were not very successful in the offensive actions either. Bogdan Bogdanovic had some plays on offense for Serbia but it gave them only a 38-35 advantage at halftime.
Vukasin Petkovic came strong out of the locker room and hit two threes right on the start of the second quarter. Serbia went up to 47-37 as Poland could not find their top scorer in offense. They increased their defensive effort though and managed to reduce the lead to 7 on a Tomasz Gielo dunk. Poland had then several chances to bring it even closer but either missed the open shots or turned it over. Bogdanovic was the main offensive threat for the Serbs at that moment and behind his offensive effort, they could finish the quarter on a 57-47 lead. Petkovic continued his great defensive job on Ponitka and even had the possibility to get a few scores in the beginning of the last 10 minutes. Poland struggled in bringing up the ball and Serbia made the decisive break on a few one-on-zero situations. The game was decided and the last minutes were marked by the usual bench players.
MVP: Vukasin Petkovic 13pts (5/10 FGs) 4rebs 2asts 2stls
Today, we saw a minimum of three NBA teams in the attendance: Portland Trailblazers, Chicago Bulls and the Philadelphia 76ers. Additionally, Saint Mary’s from the NCAA was also present in the stands.