By Yarone Arbel
Slovenia played like gold medal contenders in a 68-56 victory over Greece which has given them an excellent chance of winning Group C at EuroBasket 2005 and qualifying for the quarter-finals.
Ales Pipan's team dominated for most of the contest, impressing with their beautiful and effective basketball at a level that Greece did not match on the night in Belgrade.
Slovenia face France on Sunday in a game that should decide which of the two teams finish first, although Greece hold a small chance to finish on top as well, depending on France's margin of victory should they prevail.
The Slovenian defence gave Greece all sorts of problems and allowed them to build a lead of 19 points but Panagiotis Yannakis' team fought their way back and closed to within seven points in the last quarter.
They were unable to draw any closer.
"I would like to congratulate my players," Pipan said. "They showed a great game, especially on defence.
"They showed what they were made of. We knew all there is to know about the Greek team, both their good and bad sides.
"We managed to stop their players, especially their shooters and didn't allow them to give their best."
Greece will look to finish the group stage on a high when they meet Bosnia-Herzegovina on Sunday when victory is necessary to assure themselves a place in the next round.
Sani Becirovic, whose career was once in jeopardy with a knee injury, showed he is well and truly back to top form for Slovenia in this game by scoring a team-high 18 points.
As powerful and efficient as Slovenia had been, they nearly allowed the Greeks to sneak all the way back in.
A three-point play by Vasileios Spanoulis pulled Greece to within 56-49 with seven minutes to play.
Slovenia held their nerve, though, as Bostjan Nachbar scored four straight points to spark a six 6-0 run to effectively kill off their opponents.
"We didn't allow them to give their best, and our centers - (Radislov) Nesterovic and (Primoz) Brezec - did a great job on (Lazaros) Papadopoulos.
Just like Friday, Slovenia had hegemony on the boards, collecting 11 more rebounds than the Greeks.
The first quarter showed great intensity from both sides.
Neither team allowed the other to take off as the score was tied three times.
The lead also changed hands five times and until the last second, neither side had led by more than three points.
One hope for the Greeks at half-time was the Slovenian big men, Erazem Lorbek and Primoz Brezec, found themselves in foul trouble with three each.
Slovenia and their hot-shooting Becirovic marched to the locker room up 37-27.
Becirovic finished six of nine from the field, including four of six from the three-point line.
Nachbar added 14 and Marko Milic 11.
Greece, once again, had only one player in double digits. This time it was Papadopoulos who had 15 points.
Greek guard Dimitrios Diamantidis said: "We knew this was going to be a very difficult game.
"Slovenia have a lot of good players outside and inside. We were very nervous, and we couldn't recover from that during the game.
"We try to forget about the game when it's over and it doesn't matter if we win or lose.
"We look to the next game, because in such tournaments you have to play well all the time, even after games like this."