Despite both notching victories in their 2005 EuroBasket openers, Italy and Russia will be looking to improve their level of play when they face off Saturday in Group A in Vrsac.
The Italians blew a double-digit first half lead but showed composure in battling back from 10 down with seven minutes left in regulation to beat Germany 84-82 on Friday. And Italian coach Carlo Recalcati's team knows they cannot afford the same thing against Russia.
Recalcati got a tremendous effort against the Germans from Gianluca Basile, who scored 25 points. But the coach said Basile is very tired and will need help from others to defeat the Russians in the Millenium Center.
"Our team can play better. And we have other guys who can play too - like (Dante) Calabria, who didn't do much. He has to play better (on Saturday)," Recalcati said.
Calabria scored just three points in 25 minutes.
Recalcati said his team has to be ready to play big or small lineups to match up with the various ways Russia can play.
Sergei Babkov, for his part, hopes Russia's shooting woes against Ukraine - they made just 37 per cent of their field goal attempts - were just opening night gitters.
"It was the first game," said Utah Jazz star Andrei Kirilenko, who himself connected on only 7 of 20 shots in the 86-74 victory. "Everybody was really nervous and was out of rhythm."
|Jon Robert Holden|
"We have to play tough defense, especially against their three-point shooters," he said. "And we can't let guys who can beat you beat us. Basile is very dangerous and we'll have to keep him in check."
The 2003 EuroBasket bronze medalists and 2004 OIympic silver medalists Italy have won the last six EuroBasket matchups with Russia.
The winner will qualify at least for the elimination round in which they would stay in Vrsac and face the third-place team from Group B to reach the quarter-finals.
Germany face Ukraine in Group A's nightcap.