It didn’t take long for the first upset to rear its head in the quarter-finals of the Eural Trans Gas European Championship for U20 Men in Brno, Czech Republic.
It came courtesy of Slovenia’s 74:67 win over Russia.
As has become an unwelcome tradition for Russian male teams, the side started out strongly in the competition and were favoured for a medal. Slovenia, on the other hand, had not produced the kind of form that took them to a silver medal at the 2002 European Championship for U18 Men.
But the Slovenians came up with the kind of game they are capable of to beat Russia, and encouragingly for their team, center Erazem Lorbek rediscovered his A-game.
Lorbek dominated in 2002, averaging 23.2 ppg and 10.8 rpg and earning MVP honours. So far he has not looked the same player, except for today. His 31-point effort was the key factor that tipped the balance for Slovenia in a tight 4th quarter.
After a close first period, it was Slovenia who managed to emerge with their noses slightly in front, a situation that would remain the same for almost 40 minutes. They led by 6-points at halftime and were able to increase that lead to 16 points midway through the third.
Then Russia, in sleeping giant fashion, finally woke up.
The Russians turned up the defensive pressure and went on a 10-0 run to get right back into contention. Into the 4th and Russia even went ahead, thanks to 5 straight points from guard Viktor Keiru ( 64:62).
Russia led again at 67:65, but a drive and basket from Domen Lorbek tied the game and big brother Erazem hit a jumper to put Slovenia in front once more.
The final minute of the game was littered with Russian errors. Firstly Alexey Kuznetsov turned the ball over, to which Lorbek replied with a basket (71:67) and on the next play, Kuznetsov missed a 3.
With 34 seconds remaining, Russia decided to put Slovenia on the line and see if their nerves would hold. Slovenian point guard Jore Mocnik could hit just 1/2, but another Russian turnover, this time by Andrei Komarovski gave Russia too much to do in the final 25 seconds. They were forced to foul again and Erazem Lorbek’s 2 free throws gave his side an unassailable, 74:67 lead.
Lorbek scored 10 of his 31 in the 4th quarter, and brother Domen added 13 for the game.