Turning Point: Ukraine kept Italy without a score during the first five minutes of the final quarter and used an 8-0 run to extend their lead to 59-48, in a game that had never seen a gap wider than six points during its first 30 minutes.
Game Hero: Eugene Jeter provided Ukraine with a pair of safe hands all night and finished with a game-high 20 points and a team-high four assists.
Stats Don't Lie: Italy out-rebounded Ukraine 44 to 40 but as fatigue started to take its toll in the second half, their field goal percentage dropped from 44% to 32% at the final buzzer. Ukraine meanwhile shot poorly at the start but finished on an excellent 46% from two-point range, scoring 22 points in the paint to Italy's 10.
|Pooh Jeter was integral in taking Ukraine to an historic berth at next year's FIBA World Cup|
Ukraine coped better with fatigue on Friday in Ljubljana to defeat Italy 66-58, earn a place in the game for 5th place at EuroBasket 2013 and secure their first ever participation in the FIBA Basketball World Cup.
The effect of their respective quarter-final efforts was more than evident during the first quarter, as Ukraine and Italy got off to a rather indolent start to the game.
They both went three minutes without a score, until Pietro Aradori hit a jumper from the top of the key with 3:55 remaining in the opening quarter and then another from the baseline with 3:19 left to give Italy a 12-5 lead, their biggest in the game.
Ukraine balanced proceedings with a 6-0 run but an Alessandro Gentile triple 36 seconds from the first buzzer gave Italy a 17-13 lead at the first buzzer.
The encounter continued more or less at the same slow pace until 1:28 from the end of the second, when Gentile pushed Italy ahead 34-30 with a spectacular dunk on the fast break, sparking some life into the game's tempo.
Maxym Korniyenko replied with a dunk on the other end of the floor and Eugene Jeter sunk a three-pointer 33 seconds from the half-time buzzer to send Ukraine into the break with a 35-34 lead.
"There was no time for us to be sad yesterday, we talked about it a bit in the locker room to see our mistakes and then we woke up and threw the game behind us and concentrated on Italy," Ukraine's Maksym Pustozvonov said after the game.
Kyryl Natyazhko with a lay-up gave Ukraine their biggest lead until that point, 39-34, within the first minute of action in the third but Marco Belinelli reeled in five quick-fire points to level the scores once again.
From then on the lead would change hands on every other possession, as both sides went to great lengths to keep the pace up but struggled enormously with their shooting as fatigue was increasing.
An off-balance three-pointer from Olexandr Mishula two seconds from the third buzzer restored Ukraine in the driver's seat, 51-48, going into the final frame.
"This is about the team, and when someone scores a tough shot, it pushes the team to be better on both ends of the floor," Mishula said afterwards.
"Both teams played tough games yesterday, they finished a couple of hours later than us, so maybe we had a little bit more energy in the fourth quarter, I think they were more tired."
Ukraine's burst at the start of the fourth gave them a double-digit cushion which proved enough even when Nicolò Melli and Aradori combined for five consecutive points in a last desperate attempt to bring Italy closer, 63-58.
Italy took 32 three-pointers on Friday, and scored only 10 points in the final 11 minutes of the game.
"We changed a bit the plan during the game, because we knew they would want to penetrate all the time, but after that they started swinging the ball at the perimeter," Mishula said.
Viacheslav Kravtsov came up with his sixth block on the night to prevent Andrea Cinciarini from scoring with a lay-up and Jeter kept his calm from the foul line and sunk two free-throws to make it a seven-point game, 65-58, with 45 seconds remaining to the final buzzer.
"Maybe I still don't believe it deep down, because no one, including me, has ever been in a world championship so it's incredible," Pustozvonov said.
"I think it's a truly historical moment for us, for Ukrainian basketball."