Italy Open Group C with Victory

02 April 2004
Karlo Dzeverlija, KK

The qualification tournament for the FIBA U18 European Championship (group C) opened with fireworks in the way of beautiful moves, major excitement and unbelievable twists and turns. After three matches today, looking forward to Friday with wins are Italy, Latvia and Croatia.
Unstoppable Bellineli Leads Italy in Tournament Opener
As expected the opening of the tournament went to Italy, but Georgia was in the game for the full 40 minutes so that the result of 101:87 (27:21, 45:41, 75:6) could mislead anyone who did not watch this interesting game.
The first quarter belonged to Italy, namely the energetic Marc Bellineli. A player for Skipper Bologna, Bellineli scored the first seven points, which helped Azzura build its 27:21 lead at the end of the first quarter. But at the start of the second period Georgia was firmly grabbing the loose threads of the game with the lead of a very good player Manuchar Markoishvili (Mitteldeutscher BC) (total of 18 points) to turn the game in their favor before halftime.
That appears to have awakened their opponents who managed to score 2 three pointers before the break and they continued with their high energy upon returning from the locker rooms. The pressure was productive, and the Italians pulled to a comfortable +10 lead.
Bellineli was a crowd favorite who elicited applause from the spectators with his three pointers and fade-away shots.
The Georgia representatives threatened for 35 minutes; but then they were down by four baskets and had emptied their energy reserves. Bellineli (total of 31 points) and Captain Luca Lechtaler led the Italians to a final 101:87. The Italian center Lechtaler managed 17 points, while center Viktor Samikadze led the Georgian team in scoring with 27 points.
Latvia Soars on the Wings of Andris Biedrins
Little was certain except the French win over Latvia, and the first 30 minutes of the game confirmed that expectation, until the last quarter.
At the very start of the game the Latvians took advantage of the French favorites nervousness and took the lead 6:0. French coach Richard Billant switched the starting five in the first five minutes and it appeared that he had chosen well.

Guards Pellin & Curti maintained a fast pace which gave the French a lead of 26:11 by the middle of the second quarter. By halftime, thanks to skill of Andris Biedrins, the Latvians had closed the gap to 33:24.
When the French, thanks in part to a solid defense, led 49:31 by the middle of the third quarter it appeared that for all intents and purposes the game was decided. With Latvia giving only 25 points in 25 minutes few believed that a turnaround was possible. But it was, and in an unbelievable way.
Latvia spectacularly managed with a series of 18:0 a turnaround of 38:51, allowing the French favorites only 6 points in the last ten minutes of play. The animated 213cm Biedrins led the way (21 points & 16 rebounds) and outplayed Pau Orthez centre Johan Petro. In the final moments of the tense match, Biedrins stayed cool and made all his free throws. After 40 minutes the game board stayed at 61:57 (10:20, 24:33, 38:51) for Latvia.
It is a glaring fact that in the first 9:20 minutes of the last quarter the French did not manage a single point. In the lines of the defeated French Etienne Plateau stood out with 20 points and five steals.
European Champs are Convincing at the Qualification Opening
In contrast to the earlier games, there was no dilemma as to who the winner would be between the match of Croatia and Finland. The standing European Champions dominated the center court over the endearing Fins. The end result was 79:51 (28:12, 51:22, 64:39).
Both teams were nervous at the start of the game, but Croatia quickly overcame that due in part to the large home crowd. The starting five, Ugrinoski - Bilic – Kovacevic - Rudez - Zizic quickly took a 11:3 lead, and never looked back. After only five minutes of play Finnish coach Jarmo Laitinen was forced to call a timeout.  But it would appear that the minute of rest helped the Croatian team more than the Finnish, as the home team continued to take a huge lead. Due to the lead of Antonio Bilic, at the buzzer at half time Croatia was leading by 29 points.
The continuation of the game gave trainer Denis Bajramovic the opportunity to give the players on the bench a chance. The Fins continued into the third quarter by making a large number of substitutions, and managing to get the third by 17:13. But that was all, because Croatia owned the last quarter.
"Every match at the opening is hard. I am pleased with my team's game, I am pleased with their presentation, their heart and the way they represented their country" said coach Bajramovic after the game.
Most effective in the winner's lineup was Bilic with 16 points, and center Antonio Zizic had 14 points. From the Finnish team most notable was Jari Vanttaja with 11 points.

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