Russia showed all doubters that they are real contenders for the 2005 EuroBasket title by steamrolling over Italy 87-61 on Saturday with a balanced attack of five players in double figures.
Captain Andrei Kirilenko again showed off his versitality, scoring 16 points and adding 10 rebounds, one block and a steal in just 25 minutes of play.
J.R. Holden and Victor Khryapa each scored 15 points while Holden had four assists and two steals and Khryapa collected 10 rebounds, three assists and five steals.
Zakhar Pashutin chipped in 11 points and three assists off the bench; and Nikita Morgunov scored 12.
|Victor Khryapa |
"It was kind of perfect. We allowed Italy to come back a little in the second half. But the first half was perfect. That's the way we should play."
Italian captain Giacomo Galanda led the Italians with 13 points and Gianmarco Pozzecco scored 12. Stefano Mancinelli added seven points, six rebounds and three assists.
But Gianluca Basile, who scored 25 points against Germany, was held without a point and Dante Calabria had just six.
"Italy looked a little tired after their tough game against Germany - coming back and over time. And that takes a lot of energy," Kirilenko said.
Russia came out shooting the lights out from the start - so unlike their ice cold 37 per cent shooting performance against Ukraine - and dominated the game with their defence as well.
Between the first and second quarters, Russia used a 16-0 run to bulge their lead to 37-11 with six minutes remaining in the half. By half-time it was 52-20.
Russia used their superior athleticism down low and excellent passing game to continually extend the lead.
The Russians pushed their advantage to 35 with three minutes left in the game, and Italy could only close to the final margin after Russia coach Sergey Babkov cleared his bench.
"This was the top game in the group, and both teams knew it. And we came out ready," Khryapa said.
"They came back a little. But we always had control of the game. And after building the early lead we saw okay, let's make it 25-30."
Italian coach Carlo Recalcati said the 17-0 run hurt the morale of the team.
"It was a little frustrating. My team tried to play hard. Maybe point by point we got a little down."
With the victory, Russia are all but secured at least second place in Group A ahead of Sunday's game against Germany, thanks to their excellent point differential. That means Russia would be able to stay in Vrsac for the elimination game - should they not top the group.
Italy play Ukraine on Sunday knowing they need a win to stay in the tournament.
Despite both notching victories in their 2005 EuroBasket openers, Italy and Russia will be looking to improve their level of play when they face off Saturday in Group A in Vrsac.
The Italians blew a double-digit first half lead but showed composure in battling back from 10 down with seven minutes left in regulation to beat Germany 84-82 on Friday. And Italian coach Carlo Recalcati's team knows they cannot afford the same thing against Russia.
Recalcati got a tremendous effort against the Germans from Gianluca Basile, who scored 25 points. But the coach said Basile is very tired and will need help from others to defeat the Russians in the Millenium Center.
"Our team can play better. And we have other guys who can play too - like (Dante) Calabria, who didn't do much. He has to play better (on Saturday)," Recalcati said.
Calabria scored just three points in 25 minutes.
Recalcati said his team has to be ready to play big or small lineups to match up with the various ways Russia can play.
Sergei Babkov, for his part, hopes Russia's shooting woes against Ukraine - they made just 37 per cent of their field goal attempts - were just opening night gitters.
"It was the first game," said Utah Jazz star Andrei Kirilenko, who himself connected on only 7 of 20 shots in the 86-74 victory. "Everybody was really nervous and was out of rhythm."
|Jon Robert Holden|
"We have to play tough defense, especially against their three-point shooters," he said. "And we can't let guys who can beat you beat us. Basile is very dangerous and we'll have to keep him in check."
The 2003 EuroBasket bronze medalists and 2004 OIympic silver medalists Italy have won the last six EuroBasket matchups with Russia.
The winner will qualify at least for the elimination round in which they would stay in Vrsac and face the third-place team from Group B to reach the quarter-finals.
Germany face Ukraine in Group A's nightcap.