SF Preview: Lithuania vs. Croatia

20 September 2013

EUROBASKET 2013

8. Jonas Maciulis (Lithuania)
Jonas Maciulis could have a similar reaction on Friday night, should be able to handle the responsibility of shutting down Bojan Bogdanovic

While winning Thursday at the quarter-final stage meant a lot for both Lithuania and Croatia, both teams will have a quick turnaround of emotions as they square off with history at stake in their semi-final showdown on Friday.

Jonas Kazlauskas' Lithuanians have looked like a changed team since losing to Bosnia & Herzegovina in the final game of the first group stage. After nearly being eliminated because of the defeat, the players held a meeting and determined they cannot continue to play like they had. The result has been four straight victories and a spot in the semis.

Lithuania had not gotten into the final four since 2007, when they won the bronze medal. A win against Croatia would mean Lithuania's sixth European medal is locked up to go along with gold in 1937, 1939 and 2003 and silver from 1995.

But Croatia will be a tough task for Lithuania even though the Balkan side has never beaten the Baltic nation in fully-fledged top-level play. Croatia's 1-7 record includes two qualifying group games in 1999 - in one of which Croatia prevailed. Croatia lost to Lithuania in the 1995 EuroBasket semi-finals, the group stage at the 1996 Olympics, the second group stage in 1999, the First Round group in EuroBasket 2005 and the 2008 Olympics.

The teams' most recent meeting in Europe came in the EuroBasket 2007 quarter-finals where Lithuania won 74-72 as Croatia's Zoran Planinic missed two free throws with one second left which would have tied the game. Croatians Roko Ukic and Damir Markota were in that game while the 2007 Lithuanian squad included Jonas Maciulis, Linas Kleiza, Robertas Javtokas and the Lavrinovic brothers Darjus and Ksistof.

Croatia are into the semi-finals for the first time in 18 years with hopes of taking at least bronze like they did in 1995 and 1993. Those are the country's only two medals since breaking away from Yugoslavia.

Jasmin Repesa's men have been the hottest team in the competition. After losing their opening game to Spain by 28 points, Croatia have reeled off eight straight victories. They also have been battle-tested with four wins by four points or less.

The minimum goal for both teams of qualifying for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup has been locked up. Now they go for history.

Stats Don't Lie: This promises to be a defensive battle with Lithuania ranked second in points allowed with 67.3 and Croatia fourth at 70.2. Lithuania are also second in opponent field goal percentage 38.8% with Croatia just one spot behind them at 39.1%. It would be a major factor if either team could manage a significant rebounding advantage since they are ranked first (Croatia - 41.7 rebounds-per-game) and third (Lithuania - 39.3 rebounds-per-game) in overall rebounding. Croatia are solid in shooting from three-point range - sixth at 35.8% - but struggle at times from the foul line as the 18th best free throw shooters (65.9%).

Lithuania for their part play well as a team but rank 16th in assists with 12.9 per-game and have an exact 1.0 assist-to-turnover ratio with 116 assists and 116 turnovers thus far in the tournament. Croatia have 135 assists to 113 turnovers - a 1.19 ratio.

With Lithuania, it's hard to know where they will hurt you as six players score more than seven points-per-game and none score 11 points-a-game. Ten Lithuanians have scored in double figures at least once at EuroBasket with six players leading the team in scoring in at least one game. Croatia are not quite as unpredictable with five players scoring seven points or more. Five Croatians have led the team in scoring in a game.

Key Match-Up: Jonas Maciulis vs. Bojan Bogdanovic. With 17.1 points-per-game, the Croatian star is the second-leading scorer left in the tournament after Tony Parker's 18.3 points for France. Bogdanovic has led Croatia in scoring in five of their nine games in Slovenia. Maciulis will be called upon to try slowing him down. A good thing for Maciulis is that the rest of his teammates can easily pick up his offensive production while he works harder on defence to stop the Croatian star. The winner of this match-up could very well be playing for gold on Sunday.

They Say:
Lithuania coach Jonas Kazlauskas: "Croatia have been playing really well. I can only say that it will be another close game and whoever is better in small details will win."
Croatia coach Jasmin Repesa: "This story is so beautiful. It would be really bad to stop here. We want to continue. We want to fight. Regarding pressure, the many tight games we played early in the competition made us grow up."

 


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