Russia Slip Past Croatia

By David Hein

Game Summary

Turning Point: After Nikola Vujcic made just one of two foul shots with 14 seconds left, Fridzon two free throws with 13.0 seconds left for a three-point lead 59-56. He made two more with 1.5 seconds left but had to watch Davor Kus's desperation three go just off target.

Hero: Fridzon held the nerves down the stretch.

Stats: Russia shot 65 percent from two-point range while making 20 of 30 free throws.


Vitalii Fridzon made four free throws in the final 13 seconds as reigning champions Russia remained in the hunt for the EuroBasket 2009 quarter-finals with a 62-59 victory over Croatia.

Russia used a full team effort to improve to 1-2 in the Qualifying Round with five players scoring at least eight points, led by Timofey Mozgov's 18 points and eight rebounds.

Russia as a team shot 65 percent from two-point range to make up for their struggles from long range (4 of 19 - 21 percent).

"Obviously this was a defensive game and we were just a little better defending the post than they were," said Russia coach David Blatt.

"They are a better team than we are but we were a little bit better today."

Blatt's men have struggled on offense, which is the reason the coach said his team shot 20 of 30 foul shots compared to 10 of 14 for Croatia.

"We're having trouble throwing the ball in the ocean now. So, we're trying to pass inside a little bit more. We figure the closer we get to the basket the better," said the coach.

"We played tough today and wanted to win this game very much, because we knew that if we lose today then our chances to make it to the next round are very small. Everybody played great defense. It was very important for us to show that we can beat a team like Croatia," said Sergey Monya.

Croatia shot just 34 percent for the game and could not take advantage of grabbing 15 offensive rebounds.

"We missed some easy lay-ups and made turnovers we shouldn't have, and it made it very difficult to cover for that," said Croatian big man Nikola Vujcic, who made just 1 of 10 from the field.

"Russia played good defense, very tough and every play was difficult to execute. We spent a lot of energy on defense, because Russia is a very strong and athletic team, and maybe that hurt us on the other side of the court."

"If you score 59 points it's very difficult to win against any opponent," added coach Repesa.

Mario Kasun led the way for Croatia with 13 points while Zoran Planinic had 12 points and Marko Banic added 11 points.

Croatia started the game cold, making just three of their first 13 shots while Mozgov scored seven points and Fridzon drained a three-pointer to give Russia an 11-7 lead.

But Repesa's men hit their next three field goal attempts and two foul shots to jump ahead 16-14 and it was 16-16 after one period.

Croatia were in front 21-20 but then tallied just one basket - Kasun's offensive rebound put-back - over a six-minute stretch in watching Mozgov continue his fine game in helping Russia grab a 28-23 advantage.

It was 28-26 at intermission after Planinic's three-pointer late in the half.

Croatia had another dry spell in the third quarter - this time for three minutes - and Russia pushed ahead 36-30. The cushion was 40-34 after Mozgov's alley-oop dunk.

But Blatt looked on in anguish as his offense committed three shot clock violation turnovers in four possessions and Roko-Leni Ukic and Kasun combined for eight straight points in pushing the Croats ahead 42-40.

It was 42-42 going into the fourth quarter.

The game remained tight in the final period with two lead changes before Planinic's triple knotted the game again at 51-51 and his layup tied it at 55-55 with a minute to play.

With 22 seconds left, Mozgov missed two free throws which could have upped the margin to 59-55 and then Vujcic made just one of two with 14.1 seconds remaining for 57-56.

Fridzon made two free throws and then Anton Ponkrashov made one of two and Russia led 60-54 with 5.4 seconds left. After Marko Popovic hit a three-pointer with 3.1 seconds left, Fridzon made two foul shots with 1.5 seconds to play. And Davor Kus's desperation three was just off target at the buzzer.


11.09.2009 - By David Hein

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