Italy - Champions of the Sportland U20 European Championship 2013
Italy came back from their worst 20 minutes in the tournament and fought off Latvia and a raucous 6,800-strong crowd to conquer gold at the Sportland U20 European Championship with a 67-60 triumph.
TURNING POINT: Italy fell behind 52-50 in the fourth quarter when the smallest player on the court, Michele Ruzzier, sneaked into the Latvian paint, grabbed the rebound off a missed three-pointer and kicked out to Della Valle, who rose up almost oblivious of his poor shooting percentage up to that point and scored the first three of his 17 points in the clutch, with 4:54 left on the clock.
GAME HERO: Amedeo Della Valle was not there when Italy turned around the game in the third quarter, but came out as big as the tower of Pisa in the final five minutes, drilling 13 consecutive points on 3-for-3 three-pointers.
STATS DON'T LIE: Italy stole 12 balls while Latvia only recuperated possession once in the game; Italy used 11 players and got 34 points from the ones coming off the bench (Latvia 22), scored 13 points in transition (Latvia 4) and got 19 points off Latvian turnovers. In a game where every basket was worth gold, those differences proved vital.
Tallinn will always be a special place for Italy, who on Sunday won here their first gold medal in the history of the U20 European Championship.
Latvia, cheered on by their sizeable contingent of traveling fans, managed to produce a far more acceptable display during the first twenty minutes, where neither of the two teams played in the way they would have liked, or performed anywhere close to their true potential.
Italy were denied the open court and had scored only two fast break points, shooting a poor 28% from the floor, to Latvia's 43%.
It was enough for Latvia to hold a 31-23 lead at half-time, a lead that appeared enormous in such a low-scoring affair.
Stefano Tonut and Aristide Landi hit shots from behind the three-point arc on successive Italian possessions with the start of the third quarter to reduce the gap to four points and, more importantly, inject confidence into the Italian side.
Italy found the midway solution between frenetically fast and overcautious and turned the game on its head by the end of the period, taking a 46-42 lead with their percentages rising to 34 percent.
When first Janis Berzins and then Kaspars Vecvagars sunk back-to-back triples to bring Latvia ahead 52-50 with 5:52 left on the clock, the entire dynamic of the clash seemed to shift at once, as the arena erupted in jubilation.
But Ruzzier's rebound and Della Valle's three-pointer, as well as his sublime subsequent plays, encapsulated Italy's spirit and their complete and utter lack of fear.
The smallest team in the tournament in terms of size, grew three meters big on Sunday in Tallinn and were proclaimed champions exactly because of their fearless, enormous hearts.
Della Valle, who was voted MVP of the tournament, had 17 of his team-high 19 points in the final quarter and added five rebounds; Landi finished with 13 points and eight rebounds while Awudu Abass and Tonut had 10 points each for the champions.
Janis Berzins was immense for Latvia and finished with game-highs in points (21) and rebounds (15) as the only player to collect a double-double in the final.