By Simon Wilkinson
Turning point: Jaka Lakovic hit his fifth and sixth three-pointers early in the third quarter to make it 51-28 and put the game well and truly beyond Lithuania's reach.
Hero: Who else but Lakovic. He connected on his first four attempts from beyond the arc and had his game-high 24 points through three quarters of play.
Stats: While Slovenia had the hot hand, Lithuania struggled mightily, hitting just 38 percent of their shots (21 of 58 including six of 22 from three-point range).
Slovenia eased their way past Lithuania 81-58 in Group F of the EuroBasket 2009 Qualifying Round in Lodz.
Jaka Lakovic erupted for a game-high 24 points as Jure Zdovc's side improved to 2-1 while the Lithuanians dropped to 0-3 and must now beat both Spain and Serbia in their remaining games to stand a chance of reaching the last eight.
Lakovic had the hot hand on the night, connecting on six of nine three-point attempts and had his total tally all wrapped up by the end of the third quarter, to help his team go up 62-39 heading into the final frame.
|Slovenia Fans were vastly outnumbered by their Lithuanian counterparts, but they left the arena in a much better mood.|
"We always do a very good job of passing the ball around and trying to find the open man or the one who has a good rhythm. I guess it was me today," he said afterwards.
Slovenia will also be encouraged by the performance of Uros Slokar, playing his first significant amount of minutes in the tournament after recovering from injuries. The center finished with 11 points and four rebounds in 19 minutes of play, allowing for Primoz Brezec to get some rest.
Up 43-26 at the break, Slovenia quickly got their lead to over 20 points early in the third quarter as Lakovic knocked down two three-pointers and Slokar scored down low in an 8-2 run for a 51-28 advantage.
The points also came in some style at times. Midway through the third period, Erazem Lorbek stole the ball near midcourt and found a streaking Goran Dragic who made a behind the back pass to Lakovic for a lay-up.
Lithuania got within 15, 71-55, on Mantas Kalnietis' basket with 6:15 left to play but Domen Lorbek then hit another three-pointer for Slovenia and they pushed the lead north of 20 for the final score.
Slovenia were the quickest out of the gates as Lakovic hit two three-pointers to put Slovenia up 12-8 early on.
Linas Kleiza then scored five straight points to edge Lithuania in front 13-12 before Slovenia finished the first period on a 15-6 run for their first double-digit lead of the night, 28-18, after Bostjan Nachbar buried a corner three-pointer in the closing seconds of the period.
After hitting their first five three-point attempts, Slovenia cooled off from long range but were scoring from inside the arc as Erazem Lorbek and Uros Slokar got some lay-ups for a 43-26 half-time lead.
Lakovic had 16 points by the break, hitting his first four three-point attempts and making good on all four of his free-throws.
Lithuania struggled mightily at both ends of the court and head coach Ramunas Butautas acknowledged as much afterwards.
"This is our worst performance in this tournament," he said after watching his team shoot just 36 percent (21 of 58) and turn the ball over 14 times.
"We were as bad on offense as on defense. I won't make my players the guilty ones. We hope we can do better in our last two games and make the most of our chances to still qualify for the quarter-finals."
"We played very badly. We all tried a lot of different things but none of them worked," conceded Lithuanian center Robert Javtokas.