Wins for France and Italy

15 July 2005

France and Italy both triumphed in very close games on the opening afternoon of the FIBA U18 European Championship in Belgrade.

The French prevailed over Lithuania 71-66, while the Italians edged Bulgaria 60-56.

Les Bleuets jumped out to a 39-26 advantage at half-time and stretched that to 50-35 midway through the third quarter after a three-pointer from Alexis Ajinca.

But the Baltic basketball giants stormed back to make a game of it, making their move with just under nine minutes to play.

Povilas Butkevicius made a pair of free throws, and Edvinas Ruzgas drained a shot from behind the arc.

Aurelien Salmon intervened for France with a lay-up to take the lead back to 60-52, but the Lithuanians kept on coming.

Paulius Ivanauskas scored down low, and then Ruzgas buried a jump shot to raise his points tally to 10 to trim French lead to 60-56.

Martynas Gecevicius then made a three-pointer for the Lithuanians, one of their 10 in the game, to cut France's lead to 60-59.

After French ace Jason Bach's miss from long range, Lithuania struck again.

Butkevicius was fouled by Adrien Moerman and he made both shots from the line to give Lithuania a 61-60 lead with 4:50 to play.

The French immediately went back in front with Aldo Curti scoring on a fast-break, but Lithuania's Zydrunas Kelys responded with a lay-up and was fouled by Curti.

He sank the free throw for a 64-62 Lithuanian advantage with 4:17 to go.

Just as it looked as if the Baltic team might grab a stranglehold, Curti made amends.

He sand a pair of free throws to tie the contest, and then Moerman went up strong for a basket to put France back in front at 66-64.

They stayed in the lead for the remainder of the game.

Lithuania's Gecevicius led all scorers with 19 points, while Curti top-scored for France with 13.

France outrebounded the Lithuanians 50-43.

The most glaring statistic was the free throw percentages. France were an awful 10 of 20 (50%), while Lithuania were even worse at eight of 17 (47.1%).

The other contest saw an Italian side launch an impressive fourth-quarter fightback to stun Bulgaria who had led 51-41 with 7:11 to go in the game.

Luigi Datome's basket with 55 seconds remaining gave Italy a 56-54, and they stayed in front for the remainder of the game.

Both teams shot the ball poorly. They also committed numerous turnovers - Bulgaria had 20 to 17 for Italy.

Guard Danilo Gallinari paced the Italians with 13 points while Bulgaria's Ivan Lilov led all scorers with 15 points.

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