|Andrejs Grazulis, Ojars Silins and their Latvia teammates frenetically celebrated their final berth|
Latvia have survived a nail-biting Saturday thriller to prevail 64-63 over Spain in the semi-finals and punch their direct ticket to the big final of the Sportland U20 European Championship.
TURNING POINT: With the scores tied at 62 and 16 seconds on the clock, Janis Berzins misfired twice from the foul line but Andrejs Grazulis climbed over, it seemed, the entire arena and tipped in the ball to give Latvia a 64-62; Then Latvia fouled Guillem Vives with four seconds left but he missed one of his two free throws and the chance to send the game into overtime.
GAME HERO: Grazulis would probably be the hero for the tip-in alone, but his contribution during the second quarter, when Latvia clawed their way back from a 15-point deficit.
STATS DON'T LIE: Spain converted only 11 of their 22 free throws and paid the price; Latvia were 13-for-16 from the charity stripe until they missed five of their last six, but the stats do not show that the four last can in effect be canceled out.
Spain made an opening statement almost impossible to argue against, as they hit nine of their first 11 shots from the floor to take a 20-9 early lead.
They were up 21-13 at the end of the first quarter and would have probably held a wider margin were they not so wasteful from the free-throw line, a problem they did not manage to solve all night.
The Spanish advantage ballooned to 31-16 midway through the second quarter, which was about the point that Latvia took two drastic measures.
On defence, they closed down the lane and stopped the Spanish perimeter players from penetrating at will after using a high screen.
On the offensive end, rather than forcing difficult shots they fed center Grazulis inside, who had eight points in the spurt that brought them ahead, 35-34, with 32 seconds left in the first half.
Alejandro Suarez scored to bring Spain in the lead, 36-35, as the two teams headed into the locker rooms, but Latvia were now back into the game.
The importance of the encounter seemed to dawn on both opponents with the start of the third quarter, as their shooting percentages dropped significantly - in Spain's case, dramatically, from 65% to 44.2% from the floor.
Latvia managed to reach the end of the frame leading 51-49 mostly down to their accuracy from the charity stripe, as they hit nine of their 10 free throws in the period.
They grabbed their biggest lead in the game, six points, when Berzins sunk the first two shots in the fourth quarter to make it 55-49.
Vives however, with a quick jumper in reply and two assists instigated a 9-0 Spanish run that brought the Iberian side back to the driver's seat 58-55, with six minutes to play in the game.
The two teams exchanged punches until Silins drilled a fantastic long-range jump shot to give Latvia a 62-60 lead and Vives stole the ball to tie the scores.
After Grazulis had made his crucial tip-in and Vives missed his free throw, Berzins went back to the foul line, this time with three seconds on the clock.
He missed both shots and Daniel Diez hardly had time to collect a long rebound and fire a desperation three-point attempt from behind the half-court line before the final buzzer sounded.
Berzins collected a double-double of 14 points and 12 rebounds, while Ingus Jakovics and Grazulis finished with 12 points each, the latter also picking up eight rebounds.
For Spain, Diez also registered a double-double effort of 14 points and 15 rebounds, while Jaime Fernandez led all scorers with 17 points in defeat.