By Jared Grellet
|Tomislav Gabric was one of the players stepping up with Croatia's top scorer Dario Saric constantly in foul trouble|
Turning Point: With Dario Saric picking up his third foul early in the first quarter with his team trailing 16-19, the Italians became complacent, allowing Croatia to go on a 12-2 run with their star off the court.
Game Hero: The Croatian team minus Dario Saric, for showing they could get the job done when their leader was off the court.
Stats Don't Lie: Croatia only gave 11 trips to the line, whilst Italy gifted Croatia 31.
Croatia have shown themselves to be more than a one-man team, defeating Italy 76-69 to advance to the semi-finals of the Samsung U18 European Championship with Dario Saric looking on for large periods from the bench and fouling out with two minutes to play.
Knowing that they would struggle with Saric on the court, Italy played it smart in the opening frame, forcing the big man into fouling regularly to limit his involvement in the remainder of the game.
When Saric got called up for his third foul with less than nine minutes played, there was justifiable reason for Croatian fans to become nervous.
However, the fans need not have worried as the remainder of Saric's teammates turned up the heat in his absence, turning a three-point deficit into a seven-point lead whilst the power forward took a longer than scheduled breather on the sideline.
When half-time came the lead remained at seven and with 10 points, Karlo Zganec already had his biggest offensive contribution of the tournament.
The center finished with 15 points on five-for-eight shooting from the field.
After not scoring in the opening half, Croatian guard Dominik Mavra assured his team's lead surged ahead in the third quarter, adding seven points and two assists as the deficit facing Italy went past 15 points.
Mavra ended with nine points, six rebounds and six assists.
In the final minutes, Italy experienced a slight glimmer of hope when the gap was brought back to seven points, but with Tomislav Gabric sinking a three-pointer from the corner with 1:24 to play, the comeback was halted.
Despite having his court time limited to just over 25 minutes, Saric still managed to finish with 12 points and nine rebounds. Jakov Mustapic had 16 points whilst Mislav Brzoja chipped in with 11.
Italian Simone Fontecchio had a game-high 17 points.