The U18 European Championship came into its decisive phase today with the Quarterfinals in Siemens Arena Vilnius. The winners were sure to compete for a Medal but also to be qualified for the U19 World Championship that will be held 2013 in the Czech Republic. So let’s check what happened today.
Spain – Russia 56-58
Spain had the better start into the game behind the inside presence of Guillermo Hernangomez but Russia knew how to answer to tie the score after the first quarter. The team around Igor Kanygin started well in the second ten minutes and could create a short lead throughout the quarter marked by continuous inside scoring against the Spanish zone defense. Kanygin threw down some spectacular dunks while Stanislav Ilnitskiy was there for the more technical plays. This gave us a halftime score of 29-23 in favor of Russia.
Spain had the better start into the second half by playing more in the paint with Hernangomez. Alberto Diaz did a good job on defense against the Russian guards and could find the layup on the break with the foul to take back the lead. Both teams did not play great so that the score remained tied during the third quarter but Russia went ahead shortly before the last break on a jump shot of Serdar Annaev. With Diaz resting, Russia could increase the short lead to 7 points as Rostislav Karenin was doing some damage in the paint with 8 minutes on the clock. Mikhail Kulagin even brought he gap to 10 points on a triple from the corner and put Spain in a difficult situation.
Diaz came back and brought his energy and hustle to Spain and could reduce the different to 6 points with 4 minutes 30 to go in the game. But despite Spain trying to score mainly with Hernangomez from the low post, Russia resisted well by bringing him to the line and finding some gaps in the defense. Annaev could get some rest and it did not impact the score but as Diaz was still driving at will, the PG came back with 2.30 on the clock. Spain had the momentum though as Russia could not find good positions on offense and Albert Homs scored the drive to reach –3. After another Russian miss, Hernangomez scored again in the low post with the same move he did at least a half-dozen times and Russia had to take a timeout with 1 minute left in the game. Hernangomez could score only 1 from the free-throw line to tie the score and then Kulagin found Kanygin on the drive for the big dunk. Hernangomez was the guy Spain looked at for the big shot but he lost his balance, fell down down and could neither score nor pass it out. Russia though could not inbound the ball afterwards and Spain had the last shot which they did not convert on a tough drive of Diaz. Russia was in the semi-finals.
MVP: Serdar Annaev 8pts (4/6 FGs), 3rebs, 4asts, 2stls
Bulgaria –Serbia 79-88
Right from the start, Serbia took a lead against the surprising Bulgarians by hitting their shots from outside with Stefan Pot. After only five minutes, the Bulgarian coach needed to take a timeout as his top scorer Aleksandar Vezenkov was unable to find an offensive solution against Serbia’s defense. Serbia started to play too easy a bit too early and despite Nikola Jankovic dominating in the paint, Bulgaria could reduce the gap and bring the score to 20-15 at 1st quarter buzzer on a three-point shot of Vezenkov. Bulgaria started the second quarter vey well and tied the game quickly. With 4 minutes played, they forced Serbia to take a timeout as the favorites had some terrible decisions on offense. Denislav Vutev was doing a good job for the Bulgarians as the big guy even hit the three-point shot from the top to give them a 2 point lead before the last two minutes. Serbia though started to focus on the game with Nikola Radicevic being back after a slight foot injury and tied the score before halftime.
Serbia was clearly the better team in the first minutes of the second half as they could bring the score quickly to a 9 point lead with Pot continuing to hit the three-pointers from the corner. But Bulgaria was not impressed and hit two three-pointers in a row to stay in the game. Pot made another long-distance shot and Mihajlo Andric added one of his own and Serbia was close to the double-digit lead. However, Bulgaria showed tremendous heart with Kris Minkov making the big three and the block on defense while the gap went back to only 4 points. Andric tried the cheap offensive foul against Vezenkov but got caught by the referees and the 95 born forward added two more points from the line. But Radicevic drew a foul on the third quarter buzzer to add two shots from the charity stripe.
The score remained tied in the beginning of the last quarter but Vezenkov was clearly trying to take the game into his hands for Bulgaria as he scored two difficult jump shots. But Serbia found the right answer with Andric attacking the basket using his nice footwork. Pot was everywhere as he made a nice jump shot from the top of the key that brought the score to 74-66 in Serbia’s favor. But the guys around Pot were unable to make a decision early as they gave Bulgaria several chance to come back into the game. But Andric hit the big three-pointer two minutes before the end that gave Serbia a ten point lead. Radicevic added another nice one on the drive and Serbia could celebrate the semi-final qualification despite some last minute desperation threes by Bulgaria.
MVP: Nikola Radicevic 21pts, 6rebs, 11asts
Lithuania – Latvia 65-53
Both teams started pretty slowly and it was Latvia that opened the score after two minutes. Lithuania scored their first four points on Pick and Roll situations for Denis Krestinin so that the score was tied at 4 after 5 minutes. Marius Grigonis hit a first three-point shot that helped Lithuania move ahead slightly in the second part of the opening quarter. But Latvia answered by constantly attacking the Lithuanian basket and scoring from close. Krestinin continued to score inside the paint on good positioning but he was also called for an unsportsmanlike foul on defense that Latvia used to keep the score close before the first break as Davis Geks scored on the buzzer.
The second quarter started in a similar way as both teams struggled to put the ball in the basket. Ilja Gromovs played like a goal keeper for Latvia and prevented several easy ones for the hosts but his team was unable to use this on the offensive end. Lithuania took a first time out at 19-19 and even the music for the cheerleaders struggled to start like the offense of both teams. Lithuania could take a first little break; even if it was only two points; when they nailed a nice three-pointer that ended a longer period where Latvia was up. The hosts kept this slight advantage until the half-time break and went with a +4 to the locker room.
Lithuania had the better start to the second half as they could create a seven point difference in the first five minutes but Latvia was not giving the game away easily. Simas Raupys hit an important triple but Armands Ginters managed to answer with a driving layup and the foul to bring Latvia back to –2. Latvia even took over the lead but Lithuania answered with a nice Pick and Roll play finished by a dunk of Justas Tamulis. Grigonis scored a nice three-point shot out of the dribble that was followed by a jump shot of Rokas Gustys that gave Lithuania again a 7 point lead. Latvia answered with a quick dunk in the fast break by Gromovs but Grigonis made the big play at the 3rd quarter buzzer to bring the score to 47-43 before the last ten minutes.
Lithuania started with a three-point shot but Geks did the same after another great hustle rebound by Gromovs on the offensive end. Lithuania tried to put more defensive pressure on Latvia by stepping up to mid-court and could generate some fast break points but the score remained close in the first five minutes of the quarter. Latvia struggled to get open shots and Grigonis increased his scoring to put his team in a favorable position. With the last two minutes coming, Lithuania could reach the double-digit advantage for the first time in the game. Latvia tried to play stop-the-clock but the Lithuanian shooters remained calm from the free-throw line and they advanced to the semi-final of the U18 European Championship.
MVP: Marius Grigonis 16pts (6/15 FGs), 5rebs, 2asts
Croatia – Italy 76-69
Italy started the game with a special defense on Dario Saric as they immediately double-teamed him on the three-point line on the first possession. But Saric could find Karlo Zganec nicely in the paint while the Croatian top prospect added a three-pointer with the foul to bring the score to 9-2 after three minutes. Italy woke up afterwards and found Amedeo Tessitori under the basket who scored five points to bring his team back. But the Italian big guy made a stupid second foul after only 5 minutes and had to go to the bench. Simone Fontecchio scored a great baseline drive and Tommaso Laquintana made the tough underhand score with the foul to give Italy a first lead at 17-16. But more important, Saric made his third foul in the first quarter and had to join the bench at this crucial moment. Nevertheless, the Croats could find the score on the buzzer to go with a lead into the first break.
With Saric on the bench, Croatia could take the lead as they took better choices on offense and Italy was unable to score in the first three minutes. Matteo Imbro struggled to have his normal impact and Croatia increased their lead with Mislav Brzoja hitting a nice three-point shot from the top. The Croatian coach decided to bring even Saric back with three fouls when his team was up by 7 and there were 5 minutes to go in the first half. Strangely, Italy used this to cut the lead on an acrobatic layup of Fontecchio on the fast break. Imbro could score his first basket of the game with a corner three but Tomislav Gabric answered with a long distance shot of his own to keep Croatia up by 7 at halftime.
The beginning of the second half was not really in favor of Italy as first the coach and then Fontecchio got called for a technical. Tessitori was back on the court but could not do much while the Croats scored from the free-throw line to go up 44-32. Jakov Mustapic hit another three-point shot and the outcome looked positive for Croatia. Saric and Brzoja took the game in their hands now and helped their team to go away to +16. But Saric was called his fourth personal with 3 minutes to go in the third quarter on a push-of on offense. Tessitori scored on the dunk but Dominik Mavra answered with his first three-point score of the evening so that the gap remained big. Italy looked unable to come back in the game as Imbro bricked it badly at the third quarter buzzer.
Italy tried their last chances as Tessitori scored from three-point territory but the overall impression was that the game was done in the beginning of the last quarter. Fontecchio reduced the score to 61-48 on a nice three-point shot that forced a Croatian time-out with 6 minutes on the clock. The Italians felt that there was still something possible in the game as they scored another three-pointer but Saric found Mustapic on the backdoor for the immediate answer. Italy made some desperation shots but in the end Croatia qualified for the semi-finals of the U18 European Championship 2012.
MVP: Karlo Zganec 15pts (5/8 FGs), 11rebs, 3blks