By Simon Wilkinson
Turkey will put their perfect mark (4-0) on the line when they face their closest challengers Slovenia (3-1) in the final game of EuroBasket 2009 Qualifying Round on Wednesday.
A win for Bogdan Tanjevic's men will see them top Group F while a loss would drop them into second place behind Slovenia, based on the head-to head.
A defeat for Jure Zdovc's side could spell trouble as they could finish second or third, depending on the results from the day's earlier games (Lithuania v Serbia and Poland v Spain).
One thing is for sure: both teams are through to the last eight. In what order they finish the group and who they then face in the quarter-finals in Katowice will be known on Wednesday night.
The Turks were made to work overtime in order to beat Serbia, 69-64, in a very gritty game. Both teams shot relatively poorly - 38 and 31 percent respectively - and the Serbs made history as they failed to score in the extra period.
A great play - which they improvised rather than use the one drawn up by Tanjevic during the timeout - in the closing seconds of regulation gave Turkey a shot at winning it. With 3.4 seconds remaining, they inbounded the ball to Kerem Tunceri who drove down the right hand side of the lane and flipped up a shot at the basket. It was off but Hidayet Turkoglu tipped the ball in. The referees ruled it to have been after the buzzer.
With Turkoglu struggling, Ersan Ilyasova stepped up his play and finished with game-highs of 22 points and 11 rebounds. However, Turkey will have to improve their free-throw shooting drastically after missing 13 of 31 attempts.
Meanwhile, Slovenia got off to a slow start against Poland but eventually saw their shots starting to fall - while the hosts' didn't - and they pulled away after the break to turn a 31-29 half-time score into a 76-60 win.
Erazem Lorbek led the way with an impressive all-around game of 20 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
Head-to-head: Slovenia have beaten Turkey in three of their four meetings to date. The Turks lost 66-51 in their last game in the Qualifying Round at EuroBasket 2007 in Madrid.
Last time out: Turkey needed overtime to hold off Serbia 69-64 and maintain their unbeaten record (4-0) while Slovenia cruised past hosts Poland 76-60 to improve to 3-1.
Key match-up: There are some fairly obvious marquee battles (Hidayet Turkoglu v Bostjan Nachbar and Ersan Ilyasova v Erazem Lorbek) but it will be interesting to see Ender Arslan go up against Jaka Lakovic. The Turk is a speedster at both ends of the court and maybe that quality is what is needed to slow down the Slovenian who has been doing a great job hitting three-pointers and creating for his team-mates.
X-factor: Can Turkoglu put an end to his shooting slump? Turkey have remained unbeaten despite the fact that the Toronto Raptors forward has been in something of a scoring funk over the past two games. He had just two points (made one of his five shot attempts) against Spain and four against Serbia (missed 15 of 16 field goals). The bright side is that his poor shooting hasn't prevented him from doing the little things well as he has been piling up rebounds, assists and steals. Still, Turkey do need him to get his stroke back, if not on Wednesday then at least for the quarter-finals.
Stats: 1-10 - That was Omar Asik's free-throw performance against Serbia, the biggest reason why Turkey were only 18 of 31 from the charity stripe. The center has made only five of 24 attempts from the foul line so far in the tournament.
Sounding-off: "This game is for first place in the group so we expect it to be very tough. Turkey have the best record, no one has beaten them yet. But just like we have done in every game until now, we will play as if it's our last game. Maybe even more in this one." - Slovenia's Primoz Brezec.