By Jared Grellet
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Averaging the least points a game at the Dadu U16 European Championship Men, France have shown that more than just good offence wins games.
It is a mantra they will continue to hold onto when they face the tournament's newly crowned offensive kings, Italy in Saturday's first semi-final.
Before Friday night Croatia were the leading point-scorers in Lithuania and Latvia. But after coming up against the defensive-minded French, it was a crown that they had to hand over to Italy who become the next team to face the defensive prowess of Les Blues.
Having had to travel the 450km from Ventspils to Vilnius on Thursday, before taking to the court first on Friday, the Azzurrini will be better-off for having had a longer rest come Saturday, compared to the French who were last off the court after defeating Croatia on Friday night.
But French coach, Tahar Assed-Liegeon, does have the fortune of a deep bench at this tournament, meaning that fatigue should not come into play too much on Saturday.
There are some injury concerns surrounding Italy's star player, small forward Pierfrancesco Oliva who was assisted limping from the court late in his team's quarter-final. Question marks remain as to whether he will kit up for the semi-final or not.
Averaging 15.6 points, 10 rebounds and 3.1 assists a night, Oliva will be difficult to replace. Having also been used to bring the ball up the court, his absence could assert more pressure on Federico Mussini who will be expected to play nearly the whole 40 minutes as his team's only true point guard.
The French are the epitome of the word team. Remarkably they managed to win their quarter-final without any players making it into double figures, suggesting that Assed-Liegeon can count of any one of his players to get the job done meaning that Italy can expect no respite when the French coach turns to his bench.
Salem Mala had a breakout performance in the quarter-final against a tiring Croatian defence, providing a vital burst of energy off the bench. If he can repeat this against Italy, he could prove the difference against a tiring Mussini.