Lithuania European Champion 2003

By PA International

Sarunas Jasikevicius, MVP of Eurobasket 2003
Lithuania clinched their third European Championship title and first since the break-up of the Soviet Union with a 93-84 victory over Spain on Sunday night.

The Baltic giants, who won gold medals in 1937 and 1939, produced another outstanding team performance in Sweden to deny Spain their first ever gold medal in the championships.

The Spaniards have now had to settle for silver on five occasions, the last four years ago when they were beaten by Italy in the final.

The consolation for coach Moncho Lopez and his disappointed group of players is they had already qualified for next summer's Olympic Games by reaching the title game.

Arvydas Macijauskas was Lithuania's leading scorer in the Final with 21 points
Lithuania stretched a one-point advantage at the end of the first quarter to nine at half-time (40-31), and they extended that lead to 14 by the end of the third quarter.

Pau Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies shone again for Spain in this contest with a game-high 36 points and 12 rebounds, but his team was always playing catch-up and were unable to mount a successful fightback.

It didn't help that Gasol made an abominable 10 of 18 shots from the free throw line.

One of the heroes for the Lithuanians in the title game was the unheralded guard Arvydas Macijauskas, who is making a habit of playing outstanding in the big games. After scoring 20 points in the quarter-final win over world champions Serbia & Montenegro, he poured in a team-high 21 points against Spain.

Sarunas Jasikevicius also scored 10 points and dished out nine assists for the Lithuanians.

Pau Gasol after the game
The Baltic outfit didn't enter the tournament with the same amount of hype surrounding other sides who boasted famous NBA players.

Spain have the great Gasol, France Tony Parker and Germany Dirk Nowitzki.

But Lithuania did carry their incredibly rich basketball tradition into Eurobasket 2003.

Who can forget their near upset of the United States at the Sydney Olympics in the semi-final? Lithuania were leading in that game in the final minutes but missed free throws allowed the Americans to fight back and win. Still, Lithuania beat Australia for the bronze medal.

They produced awesome players who turned out for the Soviet sides which won 14 European titles between 1947 and 1985.

Their legendary centre Arvydas Sabonis played for the Soviet Union and later for Lithuania.

Sabonis, almost at the end of his career after spending the past several years in the NBA with the Portland Trailblazers, was in the Lithuanian side that was barely denied a European crown by Yugoslavia in the European final in 1995.

He didn't want to play this summer and Lithuania, as it turned out, didn't need him.

In the bronze medal game, Italy capped off a magical championships with a 69-67 victory over France to claim the remaining Olympic berth that was still up for grabs.

Parker played well for France, but was unable to convert in the key moment for the second straight game.

After turning the ball over in the semi-final defeat to Lithuania when Les Bleus had a chance to take the lead in the final minute, he tried to tie the game with a running lay-up on Sunday but missed.

The All Star team of the tournament featured guard Tony Parker and Jasikevicius, forwards Andrei Kirilenko and Stombergas, and center Pau Gasol. The leading scorer was Gasol and the leading rebounder was Predrag Drobnjak of Serbia & Montenegro.

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