By Yarone Arbel
Fans in Belgrade at EuroBasket 2005 could hardly have asked for a better opening game in Group C as Slovenia trailed late in the third quarter but held their nerve to beat Bosnia- Herzegovina.
In front of a packed Pionir Arena, Slovenia won 74-65 to deny their opponents a first EuroBasket triumph since 1997.
The clash between the neighbouring countries, with the vast majority of supporters in the arena coming from Slovenia, was hard-fought for almost 40 minutes.
Bosnia-Herzegovina led by as many as six points near the midway point of the third quarter but were unable to stretch their advantage.
Once Slovenia stepped up at the end of the third quarter with center Primoz Brezec's basket in the 28th minute giving them a 49-48 advantage, they never trailed again.
"We played great for three quarters, but Slovenia played great defence, especially on fast-breaks," said Bosnia & Herzegovina forward Jasmin Hukic.
|Bostjan Nachbar |
The final score did not flatter Bosnia-Herzegovina, who gave a worthy effort and trailed by a double-digit margin for the first time only in the last two minutes.
Slovenia enjoyed a promising start. Hukic opened the scoring for Bosnia-Herzegovina, but Radoslav Nesterovic's basket with 1:40 played sparked a 13-2 Slovenian run.
Mensur Bajramovic's team stepped up their offensive attack and closed to within 16-15 at the end of the first quarter.
Both teams had struggled from the field, and that continued in the next period, when the lead changed hands four times.
Slovenia's domination under the boards allowed them to seize a 31-25 lead, yet great defensive pressure by their opponents kept them close and enabled them to finish the first half tied at 34-34.
Bosnia had a better start to the third quarter as the temperature, both on court and in the stands, raised to new levels.
Damir Mrsic's lay-up 2:23 seconds into the second half gave the underdogs a 39-34 advantage, and they extended the advantage to 43-37 with 6:15 to play in the third after a pair of free throws by Mirza Teletovic.
A three-pointer by Teletovic again gave the Bosnians a six-point edge (48-42) with 3:38 to play in the third, but the rest of the game belonged to Slovenia.
Jaka Lakovic's three-pointer, consecutive baskets from Charlotte Bobcats star Brezec and another from rising star Erazem Lorbek accounted for nine straight points for the Slovenians as they began to take control.
A Jasmin Hukic three-pointer at the start of the fourth quarter pulled the Bosnians to 54-53, but they would get no closer.
Bostjan Nachbar's lay-up took the lead to 56-53 with 8:16 to play and put the Slovenians on their way.
Nachbar and Brezec each had 16 points to lead Slovenia, with the latter also hauling down nine rebounds.
Elvir Ovcina and Henry Domercant led Bosnia with 11 points apiece, with Ovcina also grabbing eight boards.
Slovenia made five of 16 (31%) from three-point range while Bosnia-Herzegovina were a less efficient four of 16 (25%).
Ales Pipan, the Slovenia coach, appreciated his team's efforts on the glass, with the winners out-rebounding Bosnia-Herzegovina 41-32 in the game.
"One of the main reasons for our win was the control of the boards," he said.
Autumn has arrived, but the atmosphere in the arena was hot with towels playing a key role. The referees stopped the game more than once to dry off the ball.
Slovenia take on Greece on Saturday while Bajramovic and Co take on France.