Karlo Dzeverlija & Igor Petrinovic
The Croatian U20 national team continued their successful warm-up for the upcoming U20 European Championship Men in Moscow with an 82-76 victory over Japan in Sisak.
The victory came on the back of a 4-1 record at a recent tournament in Turkey, which included victories over Ukraine, Bulgaria and Germany.
Despite the margin of victory, coach Davor Vukckovic was concerned with the way his side allowed Japan back into the game after they led by 11 points with just 2 minutes remaining. Another worry was a knee injury to captain Kruno Simon, although the seriousness of the injury is not yet clear.
As with most Japanese sides, Croatia found themselves facing undersized opponents who made up for their lack of height with quickness and shooting ability.
Croatia were able to use their size advantage and centers Jure Lalic and Rudez Markota established themselves under the basket.
But Japan, coached by Croatian Zeljko Pavlicevic, took advantage of Simon's injury to get back into the contest. Japan's speed began to pay off and the visitors took a 2-point lead with 2 minutes to go, 74-72.
With Croatia staring defeat in the face, Vuckovic called a timeout which allowed his side to gather their thoughts for a final push. It worked perfectly as Croatia came up with three consecutive baskets and three defensive stops to seal the win.
"We led for most of the game, but close to the end we started forcing plays, and we could not defend or shoot, even free throws. But we reacted well in the very end and won the game," said Vuckovic.
"This was a great game for us as we played against a very quick opponent. In Moscow we will not see any team this fast, but we will play opponents that are taller and stronger. Even though we will have a tough competition and we are missing three really important players, I still hope we can have a good result in Moscow.”
Article published courtesy of www.crobasket.com.