Tamara Radocaj and Serbia continued their upward trajectory in France
By Joe Hewison
Turning Point: Ana Dabovic had been Serbia's star until a knee injury suffered in the second quarter was aggravated to the point where she couldn't continue in the third. This could have served as the spark Croatia needed but Serbia showed great resilience to respond.
Stats Don't Lie: Croatia committed 23 turnovers leading to 26 of Serbia's points, due in no small part to the high intensity of Serbia's full court press.
Game Hero: Jelena Milovanovic stepped up and hit a couple of big shots in the moments following Ana Dabovic's injury to steady the ship at a point when Serbia seemed most vulnerable.
Serbia's Jelena Milovanovic said the ‘special' motivation that comes from facing a neighbour country was key to her side's 77-64 win over Croatia, crushing the latter's hope of advancing any further in this tournament.
Serbia started at an incredibly high-intensity to race into an early lead and managed to maintain their energy levels throughout as they held on for an important win despite the loss of guard Ana Dabovic.
The win has given Serbia a chance of qualifying for the quarter-finals, despite entering the second round without carrying any points across from the first, while Croatia can no longer advance.
Milovanovic finished with a game-high 19 points to go with her six rebounds and felt the emotion of the occasion contributed to her team's energetic performance.
"It is a special thing when you play against a neighbour country," she said.
"We had special motives for today's game.
"We showed how strong we are from the first minute with our team game. We showed that in this game we were much better."
Serbia demonstrated their determination from the first buzzer. Head Coach Marina Maljkovic employed a full court press that surprised their opponents and allowed them to build a 9-0 lead, which was extended to 11 (23-12) by the end of the quarter.
Marija Rezan did her best to pull Croatia back into contention with 10 second-quarter points but they still trailed 44-33 at the half.
An injury to the inspirational Ana Dabovic early in the third period looked like it could de-rail Serbia but they dealt with that blow magnificently and even increased their advantage to a comfortable 13 by the end.
Croatia Head Coach Stipe Bralic said: "We played very soft in first quarter, we played better after that but it wasn't enough."