Final Preview: Lithuania v Croatia

19.08.2012

U18 MEN

By Jared Grellet

9. Dario Saric (Croatia)
Click here to watch the Final clash between Lithuania and Croatia live and for free on FIBA Europe TV at 19:15 CET

The Samsung U18 European Championship gold medal game will provide a repeat of the U16 European Championship final two years ago with Croatia once more tipping off against Lithuania.

On that occasion in Montenegro, Croatia were run away winners, easily prevailing 80-52.

Unsurprisingly Dario Saric was a major factor, displaying his all-around skills with a rare triple-double 30 points and 11 rebounds and 11 assists.

Two years later and Croatia's hopes of repeating their win over Lithuania once again rotate around the top European prospect from his generation.

Saric has dominated in Lithuania and Latvia, averaging 23.7 points and 10 rebounds a night, including a 24-point, 13-rebound haul in his team's 61-57 semi-final win over Russia.

However, just as vital to Croatia's chances is the fitness of their inspirational captain Mislav Brzoja. The small forward went down hard in the semi-final early in the opening quarter, injuring his knee.

Despite returning to the court in the second quarter to play a vital hand in his team's win, Brzoja's coach Jaksa Vulic said that the real test would be how his captain wakes up in the morning, after he has cooled down.

Whilst Croatia's game revolves around a small rotation and a game-plan centred on Saric, it is the polar opposite situation for Lithuania.

Justas Tamulis (Lithuania)
Justas Tamulis is only one of several Lithuanian players who can come up big on any given night

This generation of Lithuanians lacks a star-player in the calibre of Dario Saric or Mislav Brzoja but instead have 12 players, any one of which can step up on any given night, as has been evidenced throughout the past two weeks.

In Lithuania's most recent four games, a different player has topped scoring each night, with seven different players recording double figures.

Because of this, Arunas Visockas has been able to use a heavy rotation with eight players averaging over 15 minutes a night, but only two playing more than 25. Vulic, on the other hand, has had five players clocking more than 25 minutes a night and fatigue has been evident in the past two games for the Croats, something which again may be an issue in the final against a fresher Lithuanian line-up.

The biggest factor in the game however, may be coming from off the court. A 3000-strong partisan crowd turned up on Saturday to assist Lithuania past Serbia in the semi-final, and that crowd is expected to at least double for the final. With big crowds still something a novelty to youth-team players, Croatia's ability to block out the distraction should be factored into the outcome.


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