Croatia Book Final World Championship Spot

19.09.2009

By David Hein

Game Summary

Turning point: Croatia were hanging on to a slight lead 70-67 and after a tough defensive stop, Ukic caught a crosscourt pass and drained a three-pointer from the left side to push the lead to 73-67 with just more than a minute to play. And Croatia made three of four foul shots in the final 19 seconds to finish off the victory.

Hero: Ukic came up with a number of big shots all game while also dishing out eight assists.

Stats: Croatia made 5 of 10 three-pointers while shooting 49 percent for the game - nine points better than Russia's opponent field goal percentage for the tournament.

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Roko-Leni Ukic scored 18 points and dished out eight assists to lead Croatia to a 76-69 victory over Russia in the 5th and 8th place games and help secure his nation a berth at the 2010 World Championship - their first appearance since 1994 in Toronto.

Ukic nailed a big three-pointer with a minute to play to give Croatia an insurmountable advantage, coming back from a 10-point deficit in the first half. Marin Rozic came off the bench for 14 points and three steals while Mario Kasun scored 12 points in 13 minutes of action.

Croatian coach Jasmin Repesa was happy with how his team recovered from their last minute loss in the quarter-finals a night earlier against Slovenia.

"It was a very difficult game for us after losing yesterday, especially how we lost. We came here wanting to do something more than what we have done. Our minimum goal was to qualify for Turkey and also to have some continuity with the team. I am really proud of the guys that they recovered the energy - mentally and physically," said Repesa.

Kresimir Loncar, who made two big shots in the third quarter on his way to six points off the bench, reiterated how tough the game was to play.

"It was a very hard game for us after the loss last night. We didn't sleep well last night. We didn't start very well and then we woke up and realized that it was about the World Championship. Russia team is tough, but in the end we played hard and won," said Loncar.

Croatia will take on France on Sunday in the game for fifth place.

The yet reigning champions Russia will take on Turkey for seventh place in the tournament after bowing out of the 2010 qualifiers with the loss to Croatia.

Sergey Monya tallied 18 points but no other player scored in double figures for David Blatt's team. Kelly McCarty and Timofey Mozgov both hit for nine points in the loss.

"That was a hard game, a hard fought game. They were more experienced and made better plays at the end of the game. And that's understandable given the age and experience of their players," said Blatt, whose men beat Croatia 62-59 in the Qualifying Round.

"We missed our opportunities that we should have converted. The game could have gone either way. Just like the first one. This one just went to them."

The Croatians came out early effective in the post, especially Kasun, who scored five points before leaving the game due to a contact lens problem in helping his team pull ahead 10-6.

Russia stayed in the game with the long ball as Monya knocked down three triples to keep Russia within 18-14 after one period.

Kasun continued his strong contest in helping Croatia stay ahead 24-21. But the Russians picked up their defense, holding the Croatians to just one basket over a six-minute stretch.

And Blatt saw the offensive production get better distributed as his men opened a 34-26 gap. And it was 41-31 after Andrey Vorontsevich's three-ball before Croatia closed the gap to 41-33 at intermission.

The gap was again 10 points at 45-35. Croatia held Russia without a basket for the next 5:24 in using an 18-2 run to grab a 53-47 advantage.

Vitalii Fridzon knocked down a three-pointer to break the Russians out of the slump and McCarty's put-back of an offensive rebound gave Russia the lead 56-55. Planinic knocked a late three ball for a 58-56 Croatia advantage after three quarters.

Croatia gave up the lead before regaining it until Monya knocked down another triple to knot the game at 65-65 with four minutes to play.

Sandro Nicevic hit back-to-back baskets and Rozic's foul shot gave Croatia a 70-67 advantage. Sergey Bykov missed a jumper and Ukic nailed a triple to re-establish a six-point game with one minute left.

And Davor Kus and Rozic combined to make three of four foul shots in the final 19 seconds to secure the win.


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