It all comes down to this.
Serbia and Lithuania will meet on Sunday to determine who will take home the gold medal of the U20 European Championship Men in Riga. One last preview of today's big match-up and some thoughts on semi-final Saturday.
Game of the day: Lithuania - Serbia
There can't be many options obviously. The grand finals will bring face to face the two best teams in the competition that carry in their arsenal not only lots of talents but also plenty of character. There are enough players on each side that leave nothing on the court but blood, sweat and tears. Which side will have the tears of joy and which of sadness we'll probably know only after a close tough game. Most of the players on this Serbian team have won a gold medal last summer already either with the U18, the U19 or the U20 team. Some won two of the above, but on the other side will be waiting a Lithuanian team. Not a country unfamiliar with gold medals in basketball, and with the support of several hundred fans who came across the border over the weekend. If there's any team here that can match the talent, size, self confidence and aggressiveness of Serbia it's their finals opponent. Raduljica, Macvan, Keselj, Katnic and Jeremic take on Gecevicius, Motiejunas, Janavicius, Vasiliauskas and Bradzauskis. This could turn out to be a classic final
Match-up of the day: Miroslav Raduljica (Serbia) vs. Donatas Motiejunas (Lithuania)
For a change in this championship Raduljica will find a worthy match up on the other side of the court. Someone who can match him in both size and talent. Raduljica is still bigger and stronger, but Motiejunas, although never been famous for his defensive skills, could make his life more difficult than the 205cm big guys Raduljica saw in too many games here. They are two different types of big guys. The Serb is a true center, who was raised for that position from an early age, with mostly post up moves as his offensive game and the classic size of a big guy. Motiejunas started his career as a forward, still has some moves and is much lighter and quicker than his Serbian opponent. Two types of star big guys will go head to head to decide who will hold a medal made of gold around his neck tonight.
Player to Follow: Mladen Jeremic (Serbia)
Today Serbia will need all their weapons ready for action. If Lithuania will have to handle only Raduljica and Macvan they'll have a good chance to snatch the gold. Serbia will have to get some help from the perimeter, and Jeremic is the top candidate. So far he's standing on a little bit more than two three-balls per game in a little below 50 percent. Actually he hit more balls from long range than inside the arc or the charity stripe. If Jeremic would go on with the hot hand he has found, especially in the last two games, and influence the game with his shooting, the two Serbian bigs will have a much easier job, and the way to the gold will be easier.
Point Guard: Joaquin Colom (Spain)
Colom is here mostly thanks to his first half against Lithuania when he scored ten points and dished six assists. In the second his presence was much less felt, but in a championship lean with point guards, he's someone who stands out.
Shooting Guard: Sarunas Vasiliauskas (Lithuania)
Right from the bench Coach Rimvydas Samulenas pulled back up guard Sarunas Vasiliauskas to change the face of the semis. Spain was up for one half and more until Vasiliauskas hit them. In 90 seconds he scored six points in the run that left Spain behind. He finished the game with his tournament high of 14 points and five assists in 21 minutes.
Small Forward: Martynas Gecevicius (Lithuania)
Yet another game in which Martynas is the top scorer of the Lithuanian team, this time with 23 points, but in the semis you could clearly see that Gecevicius also has leadership skills. His buckets came exactly when needed, he connected eight out of 13 attempts and turned the ball over just once. For the first time in the championship Gecevicius didn't rest even for one second, and there was a good reason for that.
Power Forward: Milan Macvan (Serbia)
If anyone doubted Macvan and claimed he didn't dominate this championship as much as he did in the U18 and U19 the past year, well...think again. Along with Raduljica he led Serbia in points with 21 and dominated the game inside and outside (after struggling from long range up to this game). While Raduljica scored most of his points in the first half, when Turkey was still somewhat in the game, Macvan was the one who killed the beast. It's not just eight third quarter points when Serbia took off, it's also back-to-back plays that spelled - game, set, match. Up by 13 he nailed a big three pointer and on the next possession added the extra pass assist to a Jeremic three pointer. From down by 19 Turkey never recovered.
Center: Miroslav Raduljica (Serbia)
So yeah, Raduljica shone mostly in the first half with 15 points and had less influence in the second when the game was actually decided, but if you witnessed his first half dominance, you'd understand it all. Turkey simply found no answer to his pack of size and skills, their bigs got in early foul trouble and by the time the Turks figured how to attack the rim with Raduljica in the paint the gap was already big, and their energy wasted.