By Kevin Anselmo
Despite impressive performances thus far in EuroBasket 2005, both Lithuania and France are not satisfied yet.
France stunned the 2005 EuroBasket host country, defeating Serbia-Montenegro 74-71 in their elimination game Tuesday evening. The win allowed France to advance to the quarter-finals for the fourth consecutive EuroBasket and knocked-out the defending world champions.
France’s head coach Claude Bergeaud is not celebrating.
"We must remember we have not achieved anything yet. If we want to reach our objective and finish in the top six, we must win at least one of the next two games. If beating Serbia & Montenegro is a great achievement, it will be worth nothing if we don't qualify for the World Championships.”
Lithuania, the defending EuroBasket champions, advanced to the quarter-finals with almost an entirely new roster. Many expected Lithuania to have a difficult time coming out of Group B as the result of losing top star players and competing with the likes of Turkey and Croatia, two teams with several NBA players.
With a roster that doesn’t have any NBA players, Lithuania marched their way through the Preliminary Round following convincing victories over Turkey, Croatia and Bulgaria.
Lithuanian head coach Antanas Sireika is also downplaying the achievement.
“I am very happy we are in the quarter-finals,” he said. “But it’s not that much of an accomplishment because back home in Lithuania, people expect us to win whether we have star players or not.”
Lithuania have played in the quarter-finals round in four of the previous five EuroBaskets. The 2005 team features eight new faces from the 2003 squad.
“This is a good opportunity for some of our younger players,” said Lithuanian forward Robertas Javtokas, who is averaging 10 points a game.
France and Lithuania will play against each other in EuroBasket for the first time since their 2003 semi-finals match-up in Sweden, where the Lithuanians prevailed 74-70 with the help of a 9-0 run to end the game.
The semi-finals contest of two years ago featured a match-up of star point guards: France’s Tony Parker and Lithuania’s Saranus Jasikevicius. Parker scored 24 points, while Jasikevicius came close to a triple-double with 14 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
This time around, Lithuania will not be able to depend on Jasikevicius, who signed earlier this summer with the Indiana Pacers. The task of stopping the speedy Parker will fall to newcomer Vidas Ginevicius.
“I am definitely worried about how we are going to contain Parker,” said Sireika. “He proved he is back on the top of his game with his performance against Serbia-Montenegro.”
Parker, who earlier this summer won an NBA title with the San Antonio Spurs, scored 13 points in the elimination game against Serbia-Montenegro. Slowed by injuries, Parker struggled at the outset of EuroBasket 2005 and enters the quarter-finals averaging 6.8 points per game.
As a result of France’s victory, Lithuania went from going up against a boisterous host-nation crowd to most likely having more supporters than their opposition. A large contingent of Lithuanian fans were in attendance for the team’s preliminary games in Podgorica and more are expected for the quarter-final round.
Bergeaud knows France will have to put forth the same effort as it did against Serbia-Montenegro to defeat Lithuania.
"We must have the same desire and ambition to win,” he said.
In the Preliminary Round, France beat Bosnia-Herzegovina and lost to Greece and Slovenia in Group C play.
Boris Diaw leads France in scoring with 13.8 points per game, while Ramunas Siskauskas tops Lithuania with 16.7.