By David Hein
Russia showed all doubters that they are real contenders for the 2005 EuroBasket title by steamrolling over Italy 87-61 on Saturday with a balanced attack of five players in double figures.
Captain Andrei Kirilenko again showed off his versitality, scoring 16 points and adding 10 rebounds, one block and a steal in just 25 minutes of play.
J.R. Holden and Victor Khryapa each scored 15 points while Holden had four assists and two steals and Khryapa collected 10 rebounds, three assists and five steals.
Zakhar Pashutin chipped in 11 points and three assists off the bench; and Nikita Morgunov scored 12.
The Utah Jazz star said Russia are definitely among the favourites to win the title and said the first half showed what they can do:
|Victor Khryapa |
"It was kind of perfect. We allowed Italy to come back a little in the second half. But the first half was perfect. That's the way we should play."
Italian captain Giacomo Galanda led the Italians with 13 points and Gianmarco Pozzecco scored 12. Stefano Mancinelli added seven points, six rebounds and three assists.
But Gianluca Basile, who scored 25 points against Germany, was held without a point and Dante Calabria had just six.
"Italy looked a little tired after their tough game against Germany - coming back and over time. And that takes a lot of energy," Kirilenko said.
Russia came out shooting the lights out from the start - so unlike their ice cold 37 per cent shooting performance against Ukraine - and dominated the game with their defence as well.
Between the first and second quarters, Russia used a 16-0 run to bulge their lead to 37-11 with six minutes remaining in the half. By half-time it was 52-20.
Russia used their superior athleticism down low and excellent passing game to continually extend the lead.
The Russians pushed their advantage to 35 with three minutes left in the game, and Italy could only close to the final margin after Russia coach Sergey Babkov cleared his bench.
"This was the top game in the group, and both teams knew it. And we came out ready," Khryapa said.
"They came back a little. But we always had control of the game. And after building the early lead we saw okay, let's make it 25-30."
Italian coach Carlo Recalcati said the 17-0 run hurt the morale of the team.
"It was a little frustrating. My team tried to play hard. Maybe point by point we got a little down."
With the victory, Russia are all but secured at least second place in Group A ahead of Sunday's game against Germany, thanks to their excellent point differential. That means Russia would be able to stay in Vrsac for the elimination game - should they not top the group.
Italy play Ukraine on Sunday knowing they need a win to stay in the tournament.