By Simon Wilkinson, PA Sport.
Serbia & Montenegro finally got what they have worked so hard for over the past two days – a comfortable 82-67 win over Latvia to stay alive in the competition and a standing ovation from the Novi Sad crowd to go along with it.
The hosts came into this game knowing a loss would mean elimination from the competition.
However, the win secures second spot in Group D, with Spain taking first place and a direct route to the quarter-finals.
Serbia & Montenegro will now face France in Novi Sad in an elimination game on Tuesday night.
“After seeing the result between Spain and Israel (Israel winning 85-77) we knew that this game was our opportunity to advance to the elimination round and I think we played very well for it,” Serbia & Montenegro head coach Zeljko Obradovic said after the game.
|Igor Rakocevic produced another good performance for his side|
“We had to overcome a good team of Latvia who play the same way all the time, but in the end it didn’t work for them and they couldn’t hit their shots from outside.
And Obradovic is going straight to work, studying France to prepare for the elimination game.
“I watched the first half of their game against Slovenia this evening (which Slovenia won 68-58) and I will watch the rest of it and their other games tonight.
“We know they are a very good team, very athletic and I have a lot of respect for them. They are similar to Latvia in the way they go about rebounding. We will need to keep them off the boards as much as we can.
“We need to look at how well we were able to play over the last two games and play to that high level if not even higher to beat France.”
Milan Gurovic believes Serbia & Montenegro will not have the chance to let up for just one minute in the elimination game.
“For the first time in the tournament, I think we were able to play well for a full 40 minutes. That’s the kind of effort it will take to overcome France on Tuesday.
Tonight the hosts were led by their backcourt duo of Rakocevic – who had 19 points – and Marco Jaric who added 12 points and seven assists.
Serbia & Montenegro were firing on all cylinders early on and held a 16 point lead at half time, 47 to 31.
They were not as explosive offensively in the second half, but did well enough at the defensive end to prevent Latvia from getting back in the game.
Latvia were a shadow of the side that forced overtime against Spain the previous night and again relied too heavily on three-point shooting, but this time with no good coming from it as they finished the night on an abysmal 6 for 32 from three-point range.
Like in the game against Israel, Jaric and Rakocevic started together and were in sync instantly.
Serbia & Montenegro’s NBA contingent was ready to answer head coach Zeljko Obradovic’s call as Zeljko Rebraca, Vladimir Radmanovic and Jaric each scored some early points to put the pressure on Latvia.
The visitors played catch up for most of the first half, but their offense was stalling and as in the game against Spain, foul trouble was a problem early on.
Serbia & Montenegro were playing perfect basketball, not forcing shots and sharing the ball so well, that all eight players who took to the court in the first quarter, got on the score sheet.
The second half had a slower pace to it, especially when captain Dejan Bodiroga was on the floor for Serbia & Montenegro.
But once again, they distributed the ball and took the shots available to them.
Latvia meanwhile, were working hard to create open looks but the hosts’ defense was covering their every move, forcing them into rushed shots, most of them from behind the arc.
“We didn’t have a great start to the game and we couldn’t get any easy points tonight,” said Latvian head coach Karlis Muiznieks.
“We tried several things to change the game but nothing worked. And it didn’t help our cause that we made silly mistakes and fouled too much which lead to easy points for them.
Latvia’s captain Roberts Stelmahers was disappointed to see his side dismissed so early in the tournament.
“I’m sad to see that we were only here for three games. But that’s the way it goes. So now we go home and try to recover,” he said.
And Stelmahers also gave his idea of a good final.
“I would like to see Serbia & Montenegro reach the finals and play Spain. I think it would make for a very interesting game.”