by Dan Casey
|Beleives his team can still do better - Croatia Head Coach Ante Nazor|
A fast start from defending champions Croatia ensured that they had enough points to withstand a furious Italian comeback inspired by guard Alessandro Maccaferri.
Maccaferri scored 23 points and back-court colleague Federico Di Prampero got 18 points, while all Croatian starters scored double-figures, Mario Hezonja impressing with 18 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists.
Croatian coach Ante Nazor commented after the game: "We started well, with lots of fast-break. Then we had to change, slow down, and this caused turnovers."
Croatia jumped out to a 16-2 start and despite fading at the end of the first quarter, the contest looked over early in the second quarter as Croatia stretched the lead to 46-19 with a breakaway dunk from Domagoj Bosnjak.
Croatia reached 50 points with 1:38 left in the first half and at that point, looked set to emulate Balkan counterparts Serbia, who scored 100 points earlier today.
But the Italian defence found a solution and was able to pressure the Croatians into missed shots and turnovers, bringing the deficit back to 10 points at the end of the third quarter behind Maccaferri's strong drives into the paint.
Timely 3-pointers from Paolo Marinelli and Bosnjak prevented the Italians getting close until the last minute, when two quick turnovers reduced the lead to 84-80. Di Prampero missed a corner three-pointer, and the Croatians were able to run out the clock.
Coach Nazor said after the game, "We must be better, continue to run, play with pace".