Slovenia Vie To Make History

18.09.2009

By Simon Wilkinson

Slovenia bid to reach the last four of the EuroBasket for the first time in their history when they face Croatia in the last Quarter-Final in Katowice on Friday.

Since their independence in 1991, Slovenia have never finished better than sixth in the EuroBasket.  However, they have shown some consistency in recent years as they are in the last eight for the third straight time.

In 2005, they reached the quarter-finals in Belgrade but lost to eventual finalists Germany 76-62 and recorded their best finish to date, by beating Lithuania 79-70 in the 5th-6th place game.

Two years ago in Spain, Slovenia had a 12-point lead over Greece with 2:30 left to play in their quarter-final game. However, the then defending champions closed on a 14-1 run and Theo Papaloukas' driving lay-up with 6.7 seconds gave the Greeks a 63-62 lead and they held on for the win. The Slovenians would go on to finish seventh.

With those results in mind, it's no wonder that Jure Zdvoc's side hope the third will prove to be the charm.

And Croatia, who are also reaching the quarter-finals for the third time in a row, are just as eager to come up with a win at this stage of the competition as they have not made it to the last four since 1995.

At EuroBasket 2005, the Croats were very close to reaching the semi-finals, losing to Spain in overtime and ultimately came in seventh.

In their quarter-final against Spain, Croatia led 73-70 with 12 seconds remaining. They fouled Juan Carlos Navarro, who hit the first free-throw but missed the second and his team-mate Fran Vasquez was quickest to the ball, scoring in the lane to tie the game with three seconds left.

Croatia had a chance to win but Gordan Giricek missed a three-pointer at the buzzer. The game was close early in the extra session but Spain pulled away in the last two minutes for a 101-85 win.

And the manner in which they lost out on a semi-final spot in Spain in 2007 was just as heart-wrenching. Croatia trailed Lithuania 74-72 in their quarter-final encounter. With one second left, Zoran Planinic had a chance to tie the game with a pair of free-throws but he missed both and they had to settle for sixth place.

Slovenia head into this game with a bit of uncertainty as they have been without several key players in stretches during the tournament. Captain Matjaz Smodis has played sparingly in only two games and rumour has it he will not play again. However he has been a great influence just by his presence on the bench and around the players.

Goran Dragic, who has provided a huge lift off the bench, sat out the last two games through injury and his status is uncertain. Starting guard Domen Lorbek has also been out of action since picking up a knock in the win over Poland on Monday.

On a positive note, Zdovc will be pleased to see Uros Slokar's solid play as it has enabled Slovenia to monitor the minutes of starting center Primoz Brezec.

Croatia will be hoping for a return to form from Nikola Vujcic. The 2.07m center started the tournament strong with 46 points in the first three games but has added just five to that tally in the last three contests.

Head to head: These two teams have played twice before and the series is split. At EuroBasket 1995, Croatia beat Slovenia 91-83 in their Group B opener thanks to Toni Kukoc's 20 points and six assists. Current Slovenia head coach Jure Zdovc had eight points and three rebounds in a losing cause. Ten years later, Jaka Lakovic had a game-high 20 points in the 89-80 win that saw the Slovenians clinch the final place for the World Championships in Japan.

Last time out: Slovenia handed Turkey their first defeat of the tournament 69-67 and in the process took top spot in Group F from them. Croatia capitalised on Germany's flurry of mistakes late in the game to beat them 70-68 and seal fourth place in Group E.

Key match-up: This game will feature two teams who are very deep in the backcourt. Slovenia have Jaka Lakovic, Domen Lorbek, Samo Udrih and hope to get Gordan Dragic back at some point. Each one has hit his fair shair of big shots so far in the tournament. Meanwhile, Croatia can count on Roko-Leni Ukic, Zoran Planinic and Sixth Man extraordinaire Marko Popovic, who leads the team in scoring with 12.5 points per contest in just 21 minutes of play.

X-factor: Players available for Zdovc. While it may have looked as though Slovenia are doing just fine without Dragic and Domen Lorbek, both players are sorely missed and must return and play their parts as soon as possible. Samo Udrih has done a great job in their absence but does not provide the same intangibles (athleticism and size) they do.

Stats: 22 of 41 - The number of three-point field goals made and attempted by Lakovic. He leads all players in both categories.

Sounding-off: "Slovenia have played better than we have so far in this tournament. But in our last two games I have seen progress. We can play with anyone. Slovenia are playing harder than us and they have a solid defense, but we are very highly motivated" - Croatia head coach Jasmin Repesa.

"This game is ‘D day' for us. Although we have played well in this tournament, we haven't done anything yet. We have to rest ourselves and see which players who are injured will be capable to play. Croatia is a team which hasn't been in excellent form so it will try to rescue its run in this championship with win against us. Our goal is to continue with hard work and to play defence as we did before." - Slovenia head coach Jure Zdovc.


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