By David Hein
Plenty of European Championship memories will come back to life as the core of two basketball super powers face off for a spot in the semi-finals when defending champions Russia (the Soviet Union) take on Serbia (Yugoslavia) in Katowice.
Besides reaching the final four, the winner of the game also will clinch a berth in the 2010 FIBA World Championship.
The yet reigning champs Russia finished their Qualifying Round very strong with consecutive wins over Croatia, Greece and F.Y.R. of Macedonia to overcome an 0-2 start to the Group E campaign.
|Timofey Mozgov has been a revelation for Russia.|
Russia coach David Blatt has done a masterful with his young, inexperienced side, focusing on tough defense and taking advantage of emerging center Timofey Mozgov.
Blatt continually has said expectations of his team were low coming into the tournament. And the team should be able to play loose, knowing that they have nothing to lose and so much to gain.
The club experience of 34-year-old veteran Kelly McCarty could come in handy. McCarty is still leading the team in scoring (14.0 points) but he twice in the last three games has been held under double digits though he has done other things to help Russia win. More scoring would help Russia's cause in Katowice.
Serbia meanwhile have dropped just one game in their last four and that was in overtime against Turkey and come into the game brimming with confidence.
Head coach Dusan Ivkovic was able to rest some of his main players in the final Qualifying Round game against Lithuania, which could prove vital seeing as they must play two straight days while Russia had a day off after the Qualifying Round.
Head-to-head: After a long, storied history of Soviet Union and Yugoslavia showdowns, Russia face off against Serbia for the second time - with Russia winning 73-65 in the opening game of EuroBasket 2007.
Last Time Out: Russia booked their spot in the quarter-finals thanks to a 71-69 victory over F.Y.R. of Macedonia. Serbia reached the final eight after an 89-79 win against Lithuania.
Key Match-Up: Nenad Kristic vs. Timofey Mozgov. The NBA center Kristic has been Serbian's most consistent low post presence throughout the tournament. And he would be well served to use his NBA wits to get some cheap foul calls on Mozgov, who has averaged 17.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 64 percent shooting in his last three games.
X-Factor: Experience - or lack there of. Serbia (22.3 average age) and Russia (24.7) are the two of the three youngest teams in the competition and combine for 18 players 24 years or younger. Which team can best deal with the pressure of the quarter-final limelight will likely decide this showdown.
Key Stat: 38.0. That is the opponent field goal percentage allowed by Russia - the best in the tournament. Unless the Russians can slow down the Serb offense, they could be in trouble.
Sounding off: "We played a good game against a talented rival (Lithuania), who had nothing to lose. We played as we wanted to play - we realized everything that our coach expected from us. Now we are in the Final Round - where every team is extremely strong. But we also proved that it is not an accident that we are going to Katowice." Serbia guard Milenko Tepic