by Dan Casey
|Mario Hezonja was outstanding for Croatia with 28 points after three quarters, finishing with 30 and 11 rebounds|
Led by 30 points from Mario Hezonja, Croatia dominated Russia and cruised to an 88-62 win.
Hezonja added 11 rebounds and 4 steals to his stellar performance, while Paolo Marinelli contributed 15 points and 2 blocked shots, and Dorian Jelenek added spark off the bench with 9 points and 8 rebounds.
The Russian team were held to 34% shooting, and Croatian coach Ante Nazor explained that his defence was the key to the victory: "We had to work hard, they have some very good technical players. But our defense was under control." Russia were led by 21 points from sharp-shooting forward Pavel Sizov, but only Vasily Martynov (12 points) and Alexander Martynov (10 points, 3 steals) provided significant assistance.
Vasily Martynov gave Russia their only lead of the contest with a steal, adding the free throw to a tough lay-up, but Croatia responded with the next eight points to take an 8-3 lead and force the Russian coach Alexey Zhukov into an early timeout.
Hezonja's drive through the Russia defense had led to the timeout, and Hezonja didn't rest after, immediately picking off a Russian outlet pass and converting the lay-up plus the foul shot. Hezonja then stroked home a three-pointer, and Marinelli's drive and hanging jump-shot capped a great first period for the defending champions as they took a commanding 26-12 lead.
Sizov superbly blocked Leon Tomic's drive and then converted a three-pointer, but Marinelli connected from long range himself and Hezonja stole the resulting inbounds pass and converted the lay-up to put Croatia 37-20 ahead.
Leading 41-25 going into the third quarter, Croatia had to weather a Russian charge led by Sizov, who hit 8 points early in the period. But the Croatian offense was operating smoothly and Marko Arapovic's lay-up put Croatia 25 points clear going into the fourth period, 71-46.
Russia could never find a way to slow the Croatian team down, and Croatia will now advance to the Semi-Final against Spain.
Coach Nazor will be hoping for a repeat performance from Hezonja: "He played perfectly today. I told him at the end, this was his best performance of the tournament, he played exactly as we need."