U19 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
|Marius Grigonis has been Lithuania's most prolific scorer and rebounder so far, averaging 13.5 points and 6 rebounds per game |
Spain, Croatia, Serbia and Lithuania have met expectations and qualified to the last eight of the FIBA U19 World Championship, while Russia fell 78-61 to Australia on the final day of second round action and missed out on the quarter-finals.
Europe is certain to have at least one semi-finalist in the tournament that takes place in Prague, as neighbours Croatia and Serbia clash heads in one of the quarter-final ties.
Lithuania will do battle with China, Spain will face Australia, while the only quarter-final without European participation is the one between the United States and Canada.
Spain, Lithuania and Croatia finished tied at the top of Group E of the Eighth-Finals (second round) with a 5-1 record, but the Iberians claimed first place in the group by virtue of their 86-76 win over the Croats in the first round of the competition.
Lithuania prevailed 61-59 over Spain on Wednesday but the two-point margin was not enough to tip the balance in their favour in the three-way tie.
The Baltic nation's team started strong on defence and took a 36-26 lead at half-time, with Spain clawing their way back and coming within three points midway through the final frame.
Lithuania held on though for the win that gave them second place in the group behind 13 points and seven rebounds by forward Marius Grigonis, while big men Augustinas Jankaitis and Martinas Geben contributed 10 points each.
Center Guillermo Hernangomez had 13 points and six rebounds for Spain in a losing effort.
Croatia enjoyed an 81-60 rout of Iran on the final day of second round action but it was not enough to lift them past third spot in the group.
They had edged out Lithuania 91-90 on Tuesday, in one of the most entertaining encounters in the tournament so far.
|Dario Saric is producing an impressive stat line of 21.5 points, 13.3 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game|
In a replay of last summer's U18 European Championship final, the Croats had an explosive second quarter in which they outscored their opponents 34-19 to take a 20-point cushion at the half-time buzzer.
Lithuania did not manage to reduce the gap significantly in the third frame, but they unleashed a ferocious attack in the final quarter and went on a 25-8 run to claim their first lead, 85-84, with 2:25 left on the clock.
The Lithuanians were up 90-88 when, with just seven seconds remaining to the final buzzer, the ice-cool Croatian point guard Martin Junakovic drilled a three-pointer that restored his team in the lead and gave them the win.
Junakovic finished with a game-high 27 points on 7-for-13 shooting from behind the three-point arc, Mislav Brzoja chipped in with 17 points, nine rebounds and five assists while Dario Saric collected a double-double of 14 points and 12 rebounds and added five assists.
Saric is shining as bright in Prague as in last year's U18 European Championship, and is currently leading the tournament in points, rebounds and assists.
Serbia were the only European quarter-finalist to come out of second round Group F.
They finished in second place as their only defeat in the tournament so far came on Wednesday at the hands of the USA, 71-62, who claimed top spot undefeated.
The Serbians, who committed 18 turnovers, started off very wasteful on offence and were trailing 35-26 at the half-time interval.
Despite a comeback attempt in the third frame that saw them reducing the gap to just three points, they allowed the Americans to go on a 13-5 run at the beginning of the final frame that effectively sealed the fate of the clash.
Point guard Vasilje Micic had 24 points on 6-for-11 shooting for Serbia in a losing effort.
All four quarter-finals in Prague are scheduled for Friday, with the semi-finals set to take place on Saturday and the finals on Sunday.