Croatia continued their roller-coaster experience in the OMNITEL U18 European Championship with a 72-61 triumph over Italy in Group E at the Siemens Arena in Vilnius, Lithuania on Tuesday evening.
After a tough loss to Russia yesterday it was a must win game for the Croats who found the way to make things happen and after a close battle earned also an 11 point difference.
|Dario Saric had a stellar performance once more with 19 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists|
The win brings Croatia to a 2-2 balance before the last day of the round while Italy dropped to 1-3 but still hold a chance to qualify to the quarter-final round.
A late run in the last 2 minutes created the double-digit lead after both sides fought neck-to-neck for the win.
Toni Katic hit 19 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists for the winners followed by 19 points and 10 rebounds by Dario Saric and 13 by Boris Barac.
Italy saw 21 points scored by Alessandro Gentile but only in 28.6% from the field while Marco Ceron added 12.
The lead changed hands 9 times and the score was tied 6 in this hard nosed battle.
"We miss a real big guy in the center position, and it hurts us against some of the teams," explained Katic the ups and downs of his team.
"Today we were more focused and the shots that we missed yesterday went in today," he added.
Katic scored a key bucket and dished an assist for a three pointer by Saric in the closing minutes to decide the close game.
Italy was the first to have a real advantage with a 2-7 lead while Gentile kept looking for the net.
Katic and Saric put their team on top, and the first added a bucket before the buzzer, and set the first quarter score on 16-13.
Ceron with 5 points and Gentile with his first field goal capped a 4-13 run, which was all Italy needed to enter the break with a minimum 31-32 lead.
Stefan Zadravec and Marin Kukoc scored from the arc to create a 6 point lead but Gentile woke up and answered with the next 9 points of his team, on the way to a 50-50 tie at the bottom of the 3rd.
Italy entered a coma and went scoreless for 6 minutes in the closing quarter, but Croatia only managed to reach an 8 point lead.
Gentile woke up with 5 points in a row, to cut the margin to 3 inside with the final 3:30 minutes only to see Barac and Saric combine for 12 quick points and decide the fight.
Croatia will finish the Qualifying Round tomorrow against Turkey while Italy will try to finish the round on the good side against Serbia.