Russia Cling To Quarter-Final Hopes

13 September 2009

Defending champions Russia hope to catch a Greece team looking past them and thinking about France ahead of their EuroBasket 2009 Qualifying Round Group E showdown in Bydgoszcz.

Russia still have a long way to go to reach the Quarter-Finals while the Greeks have already booked their spots in the final eight, and David Blatt's Russians would love to take advantage of a Greek team with perhaps a lack of urgency.

The reigning champs are 1-2 in a three-way tie for third place in Group E with Croatia and Germany while the Greeks are 3-0 and even with France in first place.

The 2005 EuroBasket champions Greece will once again face a tough, defensive-minded team in Russia. Greek ace Nikos Zisis admitted the most important game is the France contest on Tuesday, but added: "We are Greece and we want to honor our country and honor all the teams that play. So we want to win the rest of the games as well."

Talking about staying focused for a rather meaningless game is one thing and doing it is another thing. And this will be a big test for Greece boss Jonas Kazlauskas.

Russia meanwhile are still scraping for a spot in the quarters. Blatt's men have improved from game to game with the main focus on the defense. But the Russians' main improvement has been closing games, hitting big shots and free throws down the stretch - such as against Croatia.

Blatt's young team is gaining confidence, and staying with Greece until the fourth quarter may be enough for Kelly McCarty and Co. to come up with another victory - and one step towards the quarters.

Russia lead the all-time series 4-2. Greece beat the Russians 66-61 in the 2005 EuroBasket quarter-finals on their way to the title. And Russia knocked off Greece 61-53 in Preliminary Round action in 2007 before winning the crown in Spain. 

Last Time Out:
Greece were beating Germany handily before holding on for a 84-76 victory to book a spot in the quarter-finals. Russia came up with a huge victory over Croatia, winning 62-59 to stay in the running for the quarter-finals.

Key Match-up: Greek front court vs. Timofey Mozgov
The Greeks are loaded with low post presences while Russia really only have 2.15m center Mozgov. After fouling out in the first two games in just 23 minutes of action, the 23-year-old Mozgov has played 32 minutes in each of the last two games and had a breakthrough game against Croatia with 18 points and eight points. Mozgov will have to avoid foul trouble to keep Russia in the game.

X-Factor: Sense of urgency
Russia needed the victory more than the Croatians to stay alive for the quarters. And the case is the same against Greece. The Greeks have already booked a spot in the quarters and players on Saturday had to answer questions about the France game for first place in the group. 

Key Stat: 88.0 and 37.9
Greece are the top scoring team at EuroBasket 2009 with 88.0 points per game. Russia rank second in the tournament in opponent field goal percentage at 37.9 percent. Russia will have to control the tempo and slow down the Greeks if they stand a chance.

Sounding off: Russia coach David Blatt
"Greece may have a couple guys not here, but they brought a few guys who are still pretty good. They are very skilled at all position and know each other for a long time and understand where each other will be. Kazlauskas has a different way of running things. But that team is like one of those planes you fly without a pilot - they know each other so well, even since cadets."


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