By Kevin Anselmo
Croatia dominated the paint and played stingy fourth quarter defense to beat Italy 74-66 in Podgorica and earn a spot in the quarter-finals.
Italy couldn’t buy a basket in the fourth quarter and Croatia’s decisive edge in rebounding and points in the paint contributed to their third win of EuroBasket 2005.
As the final buzzer sounded, Croatia’s players slapped hands and greeted their celebrating fans sitting behind the basket. Croatia will play Spain in the quarter-finals on Friday.
“This was a great win for Croatia, but it’s only 50% of the job we have before us,” Croatian head coach Neven Spahija said. “Our goal is to qualify for the World Championship.”
|Mario Kasun |
Mario Kasun led Croatia with 20 points and seven rebounds. His dunk with 3:59 remaining in the fourth quarter gave Croatia an insurmountable double-digit lead.
“He played very well and that’s what we expect of him,” said Spahija.
For the game, Croatia outscored Italy in the paint 38-28 and had a 40-22 rebounding advantage.
“I think the statistics speak for itself,” Italian coach Carlo Recalcati said. “They are a big, strong and athletic team and that made the difference tonight.”
Italy, after having won the bronze medal in the 2003 EuroBasket, shot just 4-for-16 in the fourth quarter. The Italians committed turnovers on their opening three possessions of the quarter and had just one field goal over a seven-minute stretch.
“I think the key to the game was our defense,” said Kasun.
Nikola Vujcic contributed 16 points for the victors and Marko Popovic came off the bench to score 12.
Dante Calabria, Gianmarco Pozzecco and Marco Mordente each scored 14 for Italy.
“Our team gave its maximum in this game and this tournament,” said Italy’s Giacomo Galanda.
Croatia was once again propelled by an end of the first half run. Trailing 31-30, Croatia went on a 10-0 run over the final 3:15 of the first half to take a 40-31 lead. Croatia never trailed the remainder of the game.
In their last game against Turkey, Croatia went on a 12-2 run at the end of the first half which led to their 80-67 win.
Croatia scored the opening bucket of the third quarter, extending the run to 12-0. But Italy battled back and cut the lead to three at 55-52 going into the fourth quarter.
The first 16 minutes of the game half were close, with 11 lead changes, three ties and no team having a lead of more than five points.
The game was attended by Filip Vujanovic, President of Montenegro, and Milo Djukanovic, Prime Minister of Montenegro.