|14 August 2009|
By Yarone Arbel
Serbia managed a big upset today in the first Quarter-Finals of the Omnitel U16 European Championship Men with a 95-90 victory over Russia in overtime.
The Serbs were on the edge of elimination twice but won the last two games to make it to this stage.
Against Russia they showed how big their heart is and how big is the Serbian basketball tradition, to shock the favorite Russian team.
Serbia was in a very difficult situation after big guy Nemanja Bezbradica had to leave the court in the third quarter due to an injury, and he's in doubt for the Semi-Finals as well.
One by one more key Serbian players fouled out - Marko Cirovic, Aleksandar Cvetkovic and Nikola Pavlovic.
In overtime it was Nikola Radicevic turn to foul out, but Serbia still found the way to win the game and not only stay in the race for the finals, but also obtain the first ticket to the U17 World Championship next year.
"This game proved how big is the mental part in basketball," concluded Serbia's coach Nenad Trunic.
"We never stopped thinking about the victory, no matter what happened to us," he added.
"In Serbia we have a saying that 'the ball always win', and this is what happened today.
"I told my players from the start that it's more important to play the best games in the second part of a championship, and this helped us reach the first goal - a spot in the World Championship."
"Now it's my job to calm them down mentally and physically and prepare them for the Semi-Finals tomorrow."
Russia wrote an unbelievable come back to force overtime, but didn't find the power and focus to decide the game in their favor, after a great start for the championship.
Nenad Miljenovic came very close to a triple double, already before the overtime, and eventually finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.
Cvetkovic had 17 points, 15 of them in the first half, in addition to seven rebounds and six assists. Luka Mitrovic came off the bench and had 11 points and 4 blocks including some key plays down the stretch. Pavlovic collected ten points and ten rebounds before fouling out while Bezbradica collected ten points before the injury.
Sergey Karasev had 26 points for Russia followed by Vladislav Trushkin who had 18 points, 15 rebounds and six assists, Gleb Goldyrev had 16 points and 11 rebounds while Andrey Loginov added 12.
Serbia shocked Russia right from tip off with their great reaction to every play.
Cvetkovic and Karasev fought head to head as their teams were glued to each other the entire second half.
Miljenovic's third foul and Pavlovic's fourth right before the break put Serbia in trouble and when Russia pressured the ball in the last minutes they managed to climb to a 42-39 lead at the half time.
Early in the second half Bezbradica, Serbia's main big man, suffered an injury that force him out of the game. Russia used that to collect offensive rebounds and stay in the game in front of Miljenovic points.
Serbia found great momentum when they scored three times in a row from distance to take a 66-62 lead, but then got in foul trouble.
With 6:30 minutes to play the great playmaker Cvetkovic fouled out, and soon after another Serbian big - Cirovic wrote his fifth foul which forced coach Trunic to play with a much thinner line-up.
Russia still didn't find the way to break the tough Serbian defense and when Pavlovic finished a fast break with an easy lay up to write a six point lead for Serbia it seemed like a one direction game, but his reaction to the Russian bench following the play initiated a technical foul, his fifth, and the Serbian momentum stopped.
Mitrovic came off the bench for a big play then followed with missed an open dunk that could finalize the story, but fixed it with a big block, as Serbia took an 80-73 lead with 48 seconds to play.
Inside the last 30 seconds Russia was still down by five, but Yury Kopenko made a quick lay up, and Trushkin stole the in-bound pass to allow Karasev an open three and tie the game at 81-81.
Serbia still had time to win it, but Radicevic was called on a five seconds violation, and now Russia had the last ball.
Karpenko was blocked to send the game to overtime, where Serbia once again showed their big heart and deep bench.
Russia already took the lead, but Mitrovic with a tip in to beat the shot clock tied the game, and saw his team-mate Stefan Popovski-Turanjanin score a big lay up with 40 seconds to go, to make it 92-90.
The next shot of Russia was blocked and Mitrovic secured the big win with a lay up.
"Unlike other teams here we have 12 guys and each one of them can play," said the excited Trunic at the buzzer.
"Today we proved that all the way when our bench players won the game for us."