By Jeff Taylor
Turning Point: Croatia led 47-32 with 28 seconds remaining in the first half when they lost their concentration and allowed Slovenia back into the game. After two free-throws from Domen Lorbek, Marko Popovic picked up a technical foul while arguing with Jaka Lakovic. The Barcelona guard Lakovic went to the line and made two free-throws and with Slovenia retaining possession, Domen Lorbek buried a long three-pointer at the half-time buzzer to trim the deficit to 47-39. They then held Croatia to just three third-quarter points and took a 53-50 advantage and stayed on top the rest of the way.
Hero: Erazem Lorbek underlined his sensational EuroBasket with game highs in points (27) and rebounds (eight) while also coming up with three steals.
Key Stats: Erazem Lorbek played all but 40 seconds of the game. Slovenia shot 21 of 24 (88%) at the free-throw line. Roko-Leni Ukic 21 points, including 16 in the first half to help Croatia take a big early lead.
Slovenia came back from a 15-point deficit late in the first half and beat Croatia 67-65 to reach the EuroBasket Semi-Finals for the first time in their history and clinch a spot at the 2010 FIBA World Championship.
Erazem Lorbek turned in another MVP performance for the winners by scoring 27 points, pulling down eight rebounds and coming up with three steals.
Trailing 47-32 with 28 seconds remaining in the first half, Slovenia started to fight back in an extremely physical encounter.
|Erazem Lorbek was once again a force for Slovenia with 27 points and eight rebounds.|
After a pair of Domen Lorbek free-throws, Marko Popovic lost his cool and was slapped with a technical foul for arguing with Jaka Lakovic.
Croatia coach Jasmin Repesa called a timeout.
After Jaka Lakovic went to the charity stripe and made the two technical free-throws, Slovenia retained possession and held the ball for the last shot, which turned out to be a Domen Lorbek three-pointer at the buzzer.
Trailing 47-39 at half-time, Slovenia returned to the floor and held Croatia to just three points in the third quarter to claim a 53-50 lead and they stayed on top the rest of the way although the game was close to the end.
"It was disappointing how we lost the game," Repesa said. "The first 19 minutes, we controlled the game. It's really a pity what happened in the last 15 seconds of the first half. After my time-out, we let them get a three-pointer.
"In the second half we didn't play how we have to play. They played better in the second half and shot better and got a lot of rebounds. What can I say? They won the game."
In the fourth quarter, Croatia stayed within striking distance.
After Uros Slokar missed from long range with 40 seconds to play to leave Slovenia clinging to a 65-62 advantage, Croatia's Zoren Planinic missed from three-point range with 31 seconds to go.
Lakovic grabbed the rebound and instead of fouling, Croatia elected to play defense and hoped to get the ball back with enough time to launch a three.
Erazem Lorbek launched a jumper in front of the free-throw line with a couple of seconds on the shot-clock and missed but Bostjan Nachbar corralled the rebound and made a baseline jumper for a five-point lead to seal the win.
"I am just so happy for my country and my team right now," Lorbek said.
"We seemed to always have a block in the Quarter-Finals and we finally overcame that tonight.
"We played a great game, I think it was one of the greatest comebacks. We were 15 points down at the end of the second quarter but we didn't give up and we showed a lot of will and determination as we have done throughout the tournament to get a big win."
Slovenia's success this year is one of the great stories of the EuroBasket because they have made it to the last four without key players.
Injuries prevented important members of the squad from making it to Poland, and captain Matjaz Smodis hasn't been able to play much because of a back problem.
Goran Dragic has missed the last few games with a knee injury, but Slovenia have persevered.
"I'm just happy that I helped the team achieve this," Lorbek said, who then looked ahead to the Semi-Final showdown with Serbia - a team they beat on the second day of Group C action in Warsaw.
"It's going to be another testing game against Serbia, who have a great coach (Dusan Ivkovic) but we will continue to fight."
Croatia's players won't sleep well after this game.
They had appeared to be on course for victory in the first half when an electric Roko-Leni Ukic scored 16 of his 21 points.
"The game plan was to stop (Erazem) Lorbek, but it didn't work," Ukic said of his former Lottomatica Roma teammate.
"He played a great game. He was just too good.
"In the third quarter, Slovenia put a lot of pressure on us.
"They squeezed us on defense, making it difficult for me and for Zoran Planinic and we struggled."
Ukic says it's going to take an almighty effort for the team to get ready for their Classification Round clash with Russia on Saturday.
If Croatia win that game, they will qualify for the FIBA World Championship.
"It's going to be extremely hard for us to forget about this game," Ukic said.
"We are emotionally empty. We wanted so much to reach the Semi-Finals."
Slovenia coach Jure Zdovc, who took the reins of the national team at the end of 2008, had a lot of praise for his players.
"We keep winning and we believe in what we do," Zdovc said.
"And finally we get the reward by reaching the Semi-Finals. I am very happy, but you are only as good as your last game.
"Tomorrow is a different game. Everybody will expect us to win.
"Everything with all these injuries, we just have to keep playing defense for 40 minutes. I hope we can just keep going and hopefully we can reach the final. "
Zdovc, who once played for Yugoslavia under current Serbia coach Ivkovic, stressed why his team's performance was so important.
"Slovenia is a small country," he said.
"It's the third time we reached the Quarter-Finals. Normally you need some time, you cannot just go like this to the end (to reach the final).
"You have to learn to play these games. I made the goal when I took this job that we'd go for the medal. Even when we have all the problems with the injuries, I don't want to think the players think different.
"They believe in themselves and that is why we have this success."