By Yarone Arbel
Spain are once again the U16 gold medal winners after shocking hosts Lithuania 70-64 in the finals of the Omnitel U16 European Championship Men.
This is the second gold medal for Spain in the U16 games after taking the gold medal three years ago in 2006.
Lithuania won a medal for the third year in a row in the U16 games but for the first time it is made of silver, after taking gold last year and bronze in 2007.
Jaime Fernandez led Spain with 20 points in another star performance on both ends of the floor. Alejandro Suarez
added 11 points but his last offensive rebound after a missed free throw secured the gold for his team. Daniel Diez added nine big points as well.
|The crowd was predictably pro-Lithuania but there were a few Spanish fans on hand.|
Lithuania saw 14 points by the tough guard Mantas Mockevicius, Tauras Jogela added 12 with six rebounds, Tomas Lekunas had 11 while Paulius Semaska scored ten.
"We are so happy to have won the U16 gold medal. We did a great job recovering from the loss to Latvia and all the way to here," said coach Ocampo referring to the dreadful 85-58 loss in the Qualifying Round.
"Even before that loss we weren't happy with the way we played, and made a video for the players to see all the mistakes we made.
"The game against Latvia was like a wake up call for us, and in a way helped us to recover in time before it was too late.
"This medal is all about the hard defense and great team play we have," he added.
Spain enjoyed a great finish to the tournament in the Final Round with three big wins over Turkey, Serbia and Lithuania when they displayed big defensive and team effort led by Fernandez.
The talented guard scored 20 points in each of the last two deciding nights of the tournament and was the main reason his team will celebrate into the night.
"For me it was an amazing feeling to play in front of thousands of fans for the first time in my life," he confessed.
"The fact most of them were in favor of my opponents gave me an even bigger motivation."
"Right now everything in the world comes second. This feeling is unbelievable, and more than anything else I'm happy for my team."
Coming from the warm-up both teams tried to score from distance and failed before Semaska scored a left hand lay up, but the nervousness was felt in every play as after 4:30 minutes to scoreboard still displayed only 3-3.
Coach Ocampo kept making changes and used already ten players after 6:30 minutes to keep his players fresh, and it turned out well.
Sanz beat the shot clock to hit a big three-pointer that made the first real difference, 13-5 after seven minutes, while Jogela committed his second foul and coach Dikcius called a time out.
Diez with a big fight on the boards and Fernandez with great plays sent the Spanish's lead on 21-10 before Jogela with an energy move added a bucket before the buzzer.
Lekunas with a big steal and finish set the pace for Lithuania who shut down the paint and hold Spain on only four points in the first 6:30 minutes of the second quarter, 25-22.
Fernandez broke the drought and Diez with an off the glass bucket made it 29-22 with three minutes to play in the half.
Spain maintained their lead and arrived to the locker-room with a 34-26 margin.
Off the half time break Fernandez scored a triple to set the difference on above ten, but the hosts replied with a big 12-0 run led by Rokas Narkevicius and especially Mockevicius who scored three tough lay ups in a row to write a 40-39 Lithuanian lead.
A technical foul on the Spanish bench following a personal foul gave Lithuania a chance for a seven point play, but they produced only two and the teams stayed close to each other.
Less than a minute to go in the third Jogela came back to the court with three fouls, and before the buzzer already committed his fourth, to see from the bench how Spain take a 51-48 entering the last quarter.
It took Lithuania almost four minutes to score their first points in the closing period of the tournament, while Sanz used that silence to hit five points in a row, and make it a double-digit once again, 58-48.
When there were only four minutes to play Lithuania saw the gap still on 11, but Jogela made one last effort.
He wrote five points and two rebounds in a row to cut the margin to six, but it didn't get much closer than that.
With 75 seconds to play Fernandez missed but grabbed his own rebound in a huge play to give his team 24 more seconds to run, which was more important than points at that point.
The hosts cut the margin as low as five, but after Diez missed a free throw with 26 ticks on the clock Suarez wrote his big offensive rebound to bestow his team the top spot on the podium.