Big Comeback Takes Croatia To Final

18 August 2012

U18 MEN

By Jared Grellet

Dario Saric (Croatia)
Dario Saric once more was the standout performer for Croatia with 24 points, 13 rebounds and 3 assists

Turning Point: Mislav Brzoja hit back-to-back threes midway through the third quarter, sparking his team to life and bringing them back from 19 points in arrears.

Game Hero: Brzoja for producing the complete captain's performance.

Stat's Don't Lie: Zero-for-seven from beyond the arc in the first half, Croatia end five-for-19.

Croatia have completed a miraculous comeback at the Samsung U18 European Championship, coming back from 19 points down against Russia to win 61-57 and advance to the gold medal game where they will meet tournament hosts Lithuania.

The Croatians were hit with a significant scare in just the fifth minute of the game when captain Mislav Brzoja went down hard with what appeared to be an injured ankle.

Faced with a similar scenario an evening earlier when they played for significant periods without their other star player, Dario Saric, the remainder of the Croatian team had responded to the challenge handed down to them.

However, they could not replicate their effort against Russia who made the most of Brzoja's absence, taking a 15-11 lead at the end of the opening quarter.

Even with Brzoja returning in the second frame, Croatia remained in a slump as no one stepped up to assist a heavily guarded Saric. When half-time arrived, Mikhail Kulagin's 10-point, 10-rebound double-double had Russia leading 35-24.

Despite the extra attention he was receiving, Saric was still able to record over half his team's points in the opening half with 16 to go with nine boards .

Russia continued to surge ahead immediately following the half-time break, going up by as much as 19, but like any good captain should, Brzoja led his team back from the brink. Knocking down back-to-back threes midway through the third quarter to spur a 14-0 run, the small forward had Croatia back within five points with 10 minutes remaining.

Having done everything to keep their team in the game going into the final frame, Saric and Brzoja were offered some reprieve from Marin Maric with the center contributing five crucial points to give his team the lead going into the death.

Despite giving up the lead, Russia remained a chance up until the final play when, trailing by three, Kulagin was given the task of attempting to tie the game up. However, his three from deep came up well-short of the target.

Saric ended with 24 points and 13 rebounds, whilst Brzoja chipped in with 12 points.

Kulagin was the best of the Russians with 15 points and 13 rebounds.

 

 


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