By David Hein
A berth at the 2010 FIBA World Championship is up for grabs as Russia take on Croatia in the EuroBasket 2009 5th-8th place games Saturday afternoon in Katowice.
The winner will book their ticket to Turkey with Croatia having a strong sense of revenge as Russia won their Qualifying Round showdown just over a week ago. The loser of this contest will still likely have one more chance to qualify for the 2010 Worlds.
Both teams are fully aware that one of the three quarter-finals losers besides Turkey will not make the global event next summer. So both sides would rather get qualification secured with a win on Saturday instead of playing Sunday for a berth.
|Roko-Leni Ukic struggled in Croatia's last outing against Russia.|
The game earlier in the tournament was a tight affair in which Croatia was held to just 59 points - their lowest scoring output in the event and 13 points below their full average.
Russia were able to play their tough defense - something David Blatt's yet reigning champions could not do against Serbia in the quarter-finals on Thursday.
Croatia meanwhile must bounce back less than 24 hours after a heart-breaking loss in the quarters to Slovenia, who came back from a 15-point deficit.
Head-to-head: Russia lead the head-to-head series 5-3 including a 62-59 victory in the EuroBasket 2009 Qualifying Round.
Last time out: Russia were rolled over by Serbia in the quarter-finals, losing 79-68 while Croatia were bounced in the final seconds by Slovenia in the final eight 67-65.
Key match-up: Roko-Leni Ukic vs. Sergey Bykov. The Croatian playmaker Ukic was held to just six points in the match-up against Russia just over a week ago. Ukic has averaged 16.7 points in the three games since then. Bykov must play tough defense to slow down the quick guard for Russia to have a chance.
X-factor: Russia center Timofey Mozgov. Mozgov struggled to find any rhythm early on in the quarters against Serbia. David Blatt will need his big man to have a strong game, especially against the Croatian front line, against whom Mozgov had 18 points and eight rebounds.
Key stat: 34, 11, 39. Croatia were held to 34 percent shooting against Russia - 10 percent lower than his tournament average. Jasmin Repesa's team has committed only 11 turnovers a game thus far and another game like that should keep them in the game. As would the long ball as Croatia are the best three point-shooting team in the tournament at 39 percent.
Sounding off: "We cannot afford to take our foot off the one pedal we have depended on in this tournament. And that's our defense. (Against Serbia) we really defended nowhere near the level we have the whole tournament. Other than a bit in the second half with the press did we display the kind of defense we have played thus far. (Serbia) scored 79 points and we cannot win without defending. We don't have enough talent to do otherwise." -David Blatt, Russia Coach