My second day at the U18 European Championship 2012 in Lithuania was marked by the Semi-Finals. But before the major event, there was a decisive game in the relegation group that I wanted to cover.
Denmark – Poland 54-59
In a game without any major importance, Denmark faced Poland to start the day. You could quickly see that we were in relegation group as the score was only 2-2 after five minutes. Rasmus Larsen was of course the player to follow in this game but Mikolaj Witlinski from Poland stole him the show in the first half. The Polish power forward had 8 points and 5 rebounds in the first twenty minutes scoring mainly from around the key. The second half continued to be on a poor level but Kacper Borowski had some nice plays for the Polish team that in the end got their first victory of the tournament.
Germany – France 60-57
The German team started better into the game and could create a double digit lead against a French team that looked like having no real concept on the offensive end. Mam Jaiteh missed a couple of close ones so that Germany could run away behind the great effort of Maximilian Ugrai. But in the second quarter, the French offense was a bit better as they found Jaiteh in the post where no German defender was able to stop him. The gap was now six points, the exact difference that would matter in the end. But Boris Dallo scored a tough mid range jump shot on the halftime buzzer to give his team the momentum to go into halftime.
France started well into the second half and even could create a lead. Germany made a couple of easy errors that were used by their opponents to go ahead in the middle of the second half. But Paul Zipser could bring his team back in the closing minutes and even create a lead. However, several bad tactical choices on both sides kept the score under the magical 6 points. Germany tried everything but they were unable to get the offensive rebound on the intentionally missed free-throw in the final seconds. However, their victory puts some final pressure on France as they need a win on Sunday versus Poland to definitely secure their spot in Division A.
Lithuania – Serbia 69-67
Both teams started nervously into the game as a qualification for the final was on line line. Nikola Jankovic worked hard in the paint for Serbia and created a lot of second chances for his team but he was not very lucky with his shots. On the Lithuanian side, the main options were in the paint as well where Augustinas Jankaitis did some damage. However, nobody could create a lead early on as the score was tied after the first five minutes. Jankaitis continued to play well on offense and could help Lithuania make a first break with 3 minutes left in the first quarter. Justas Tamulis added a nice layback to bring the lead to 6 points but Serbia resisted with Mihajlo Andric. Lithuania could though bring their six point advantage to the first break behind the 8 points of Jankaitis.
The beginning of the second quarter did not have many highlights as both teams fought hard without being very effective. Serbia was unable to use their size advantage with Djoko Salic but Jankovic showed the occasional drive to keep his team in the game. On the Lithuanian side, Simas Raupys took over the scoring as the forward had a great drive and a big three-point shot on another nice kick-out pass by Lukas Lekavicius. Serbia was forced to take a timeout as they were trailing by 8 points four minutes before halftime. But five quick points brought Serbia immediately back and it was now the turn of the Lithuanian coach to call for a break. However, this did not help as Luka Andusic scored another basked and Stefan Pot created a Serbian lead from the free-throw line. Lekavicius found the solution to the Lithuanian draught and scored an important three-point shot but Serbia was now focused. Nevertheless, Lithuania had the better finish of the half and went to the locker room with a 3 point lead.
Nikola Radicevic started the second half on the bench because of an injury but this did not put Serbia in trouble in the beginning. Jankovic brought the lead back to his team with a nice dunk but the Lithuanian fighting spirit prevailed and helped them to stay ahead as Marius Grigonis scored his first basket of the game. Both teams managed to raise their level and the score remained tied with no one being able to create even a small difference until Raupys made a strong move to bring the score to 46-43. Jankaitis grabbed another offensive rebound and scored his tenth point so that the lead grew to five points three minutes before the final break. Andusic scored one of his high-speed three-pointers and a good Serbian defense forced a Lithuanian offensive foul so that the team from the Balkan was still in the game to reach the final.
The last quarter started with a one point advantage for the hosts but Serbia increased their defensive intensity so that they managed to make a short break at 54-57. Andusic was the main offensive option for Serbia right now and he drew a “nice” foul on the three point line while Jankovic controlled the boards. He grabbed a multitude of offensive boards to get second chances while Lithuania started to make bad choices on offense. After a timeout, the hosts changed their defense to a full-court zone press that immediately worked so that they scored an easy layup that brought the fans back in the game. Grigonis stole another ball and finished the break with a tough spin move. Serbia had to take a timeout as their advantage had melted to only 6 points. Raupys scored the incredible three-pointer from the corner and everything was possible especially as Serbia got called for an offensive foul in a rebounding situation.
Grigonis was now present and scored the floater to reduce the gap to only 1 point with 2 minutes left in the game. Serbia turned it over again and Jankovic made his fifth foul in the next defensive sequence. Raupys scored both from the line and the Greens were up again in the game but Andric showed his clutchiness by scoring the immense three-pointer. However, Lithuania was not nervous and Grigonis found Jankaitis for the layup from the left side so that the score was tied with 47 seconds on the clock. Pot missed the tough layup on the drive and Grigonis had the ball in his hands for the victory. He ran the clock down and played the hard drive, made a spin move around the defender and finished with a tough right handed layup from the top. Serbia had no more timeout and Salic had to take the mid range shot for the tie that he missed. Lithuania was in the Final.
MVP: Augustinas Jankaitis 14pts (7/12 FGs), 8rebs
Russia – Croatia 57-61
The game started with some high-flying actions that were however not crowned with success on both sides. Mislav Brzoja opened the score for the Croatian team but the two offenses remained limited in the effectiveness. Dario Saric seemed nervous as he committed some errors on both sides of the court but Russia could not really use them. Brzoja went down on a hard contact early in the first quarter and Karlo Zganec scored his first shot from mid-range to give Croatia the 6-2 lead. Serdar Annaev scored the nice three-point shot to bring Russia back as Saric continued to miss on offense and Mikhail Kulagin gave Russia the first lead. Croatia changed to a zone defense while Saric missed the dunk on offense and fell down hard. However, the Croatian forward created some options for himself on offense and gave his team the lead back at 14-11. He added another free-throw and his team went to the first quarter break with a four point advantage.
Saric added another basket with the foul to start the second quarter but Annaev made the circus move on the break to find the score and the foul. He added another assist for Rostislav Karenin and Russia was at –2 which forced a Croatian timeout. Brzoja was back on the court after a small injury and immediately drew a foul on offense. Russia continued to go with no special treatment on Saric simply defending him man-to-man. The future Villanova forward showed his ball handling skills and found Saric on a Pick and Roll situation nicely for a new 6 point lead. Russia focused on playing the Saric mismatch on offense but they could not convert their multiple attempts. Kulagin though added an open three-pointer from the corner to keep the score close. Annaev continued his drives to the paint and found Stanislav Ilnitskiy on the kick out that gave the lead back to Russia. Ilnitskiy did a good job on defense denying Saric from the ball which forced some uncontrolled actions by Brzoja that Russia used to go up 27-22. The momentum was clearly on the Russian side now as they added more points until Saric scored on one of his irresistible drives. But Annaev found Igor Kanygin for a second jump hook in a row that gave Russia a 35-24 lead at halftime.
The second half could not start worse for Croatia as they turned it over immediately twice and Russia came up with two scores. Saric was still not in the game and Russia looked extremely focused making nearly no mistakes as their offense was run to perfection by Annaev. Croatia found their poise back as Brzoja scored from outside and Saric found his way to the basket. Russia saw them coming back and took a timeout with 5 minutes left in the third quarter. Jakov Mustapic found his way into the game and Croatia was on the edge of a total comeback. Saric wanted the ball in his hands now to close the gap but Annaev found Kanygin for the massive dunk. Karlo Lebo answered on the spectacular front with a big tip dunk but Annaev managed the last possession well to find Kanygin on the buzzer. Russia was still up 47-42 before the last ten minutes.
Saric opened the last quarter with a tough jump shot from the post and Lebo added an unexpected three to tie the game quickly at 47. The teams traded a couple of three-point shots and everything was possible for both of them 6 minutes before the end. Saric showed his court-vision on one of his nice behind the head passes out of the drive. The Russian offense did not turn anymore as good as before but the score remained close as Croatia was unable to run away. Brzoja was still on the bench but the Croatian lead remained at 3 points when we went to the last 2 minutes. Annaev stole the ball from Saric’s hands on the drive but Russia failed twice on the fast break. Saric missed another drive against the defense and fell down hard but Croatia grabbed the offensive board to create another opportunity for the dagger. Brzoja missed the open three but Russia threw the ball away on the break. Saric went again to the basket pushing the defender away and missing another layup. but Tomislav Gabric scored the basket on the put back. However, Kulagin did not ask many questions and scored the big three-pointer immediately out of the timeout with 14 seconds left on the clock. Croatia now took the break and had the ball in their hands being up by 2 points. Russia was in problems because they had only 1 team foul and it took 6 seconds before they could Dominik Mavra on the free-throw line. He scored both free-throws and Croatia took a four point lead that was enough to reach the final.
MVP: Dario Saric 24pts (9/26 FGs), 13rebs, 3asts, 2stls, 1blk