By Kevin Anselmo
After disappointing defeats last night, Russia and Lithuania return to the court on Friday to play in a pivotal classification game.
The winner earns the right to play in the game for fifth and sixth place, which would still be enough to automatically qualify for the FIBA World Championship in Japan next year. A seventh or eighth place finish would mean that the teams could only qualify for the World Championship via a wild-card.
For the fourth consecutive EuroBasket, Russia will be fighting it out for 5th – 8th place following their 66-61 loss to Greece.
"It is never pleasant to be playing for 5th – 8th place," said Russian head coach Sergey Babkov.
Russia failed in a fourth quarter comeback bid for the second consecutive EuroBasket. In last night’s loss, Russia trailed Greece by eight with 7:31 remaining. They cut the lead to one point with 4:44 to go in the game, but that’s as close as they would get as Greece outscored Russia 16-12 to end the game.
In 2003, the Russians valiant comeback attempt against France was not enough. Trailing 70-55 in the second half, Russia rallied to bring the game within four points before ultimately losing 76-69.
After dominating Preliminary Round play, Lithuania struggled against France. With 16 first-half points, they were 27 points off their first half scoring average from their previous three games (43). For the game, Lithuania were two of 20 from three-point range and shot a woeful 33% overall from the floor.
"What's most important now is they we play better tomorrow," said Lithuanian forward Robertas Javtokas after the defeat. "We have to try to prepare ourselves as much as possible."
Both teams, according to their head coaches, were plagued by youth and inexperience.
"Our young players were very nervous," said Lithuanian head coach Antanas Sireika. "We just couldn't score."
"We have lots of younger players on this team and they couldn’t control their emotions," said Babkov.
Russia are led by Andrei Kirilenko, who is averaging 17.5 a game in EuroBasket. Ramunas Siskauskas leads Lithunia in scoring with 13.
Lithuania have won two of the three previous meetings against Russia in head-to-head play.