Croatia vs Italy: It could not have been More Exciting

05 April 2004
Karlo Dzeverlija, KK

Just like yesterday, the final game of day four was played between two excellent opponents. Croatia was desperate for a win against Italy.

The home team opened the game somewhat weaker than against France, but going into the second quarter Damjan Rudez (BC Zrinjevac) came alive. That is when the Croatian orchester, led by Rudez's baton, played out a series (11:1) and closed a not insignificant gap of 14:24.

Until halftime we witnessed unstoppable Marc Belinelli in action, who up until then already had 24 points. The beginning of the second half also belongs to the Skippers (Bologna) player.  At the start of the third quarter he managed, without a miss, four three-pointers.

The game was by no means decided and the court in the Sisak auditorium was filled with excitement. Croatian playmaker Aleksandar Ugrinoski (Cibona VIP) with 10 seconds remaining and the score at 86:86 has 2 free throws. Under pressure he misses both, and in the final attack in regular time Belinelli's ball hits the front of the rim. Overtime.

A 4-0 series at the start, takes the Croats into the lead. It was then that 16 year old Ugrinoski decided to be the hero of the game. He lands all the free throws, lay-ups, and with 2.7 seconds remaining takes another free throw, the ball wobbles on the rim but then drains through the net. The sound of the final buzzer signals the audience onto the floor to celebrate with the winners.

Jure Lalic led with 24 points, Hrvoje Kovacevic was second with 21 (7 assists) while Ugrinoski gave six out of a total 10 baskets in overtime play. Michele Antonutti had 19 points, while 'hip-shooter' Belinelli finished with 39 points (14/ 21 shots).

"I feel excellent, I'm excited. I missed two free shots at the end of the fourth, but at the next opportunity I had to make them!" proclaimed Ugrinoski.

Coach Denis Bajramovic, still deeply moved by the game said: "Heart-stopping, this was a heart-stopping game. We opened badly, it was evident, but I believed that we would win - basketball is played for 40 minutes."

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