EUROBASKET WOMEN 2011
Turning Point: With the game knotted at 42-42 with less than six minutes to go in the third quarter, Croatia scored eight unanswered points as part of a 19-5 run to take command, 61-47 with less than six minutes remaining.
Game Hero: Croatia´s Jelena Ivezic had 15 first-half points and finished with a game-high 21. She hauled down eight rebounds, dished out two assists and came up with three of her team´s seven steals.
Stats Don't Lie: Croatia´s Iva Ciglar was a perfect seven-for-seven shooting from the floor heading into the final quarter. She finished with 19 points on seven of nine shooting. Montenegro finished 20 of 56 (36%) shooting from inside the arc while Croatia were an impressive 21 of 32 (66%). Croatia got 17 of their 41 rebounds from the offensive glass..
Croatia turned a nightmare into a dream in their last game of the EuroBasket Women in Poland on Saturday by beating Montenegro to clinch fifth place.
Getting outstanding performances from Jelena Ivezic and back-up point guard Iva Ciglar, Croatia defeated the Montenegrins 73-59.
Ivezic had 15 of her game-high 21 points in the first half as Croatia prevailed.
The fifth-place finish means that Croatia will not have to go through qualifying for the next EuroBasket Women.
It is also hugely significant because they have taken the last spot on offer from Europe for next year's FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women.
The chances will be very good for Croatia getting to London, where the Olympics will be held, judging from the success of the teams from the old continent in 2009 as all four European teams taking part then earned a trip to the Beijing Games.
Much of the credit for Croatia's success has to go to their coach, Stipe Bralic.
His team lost their first game in the Championship to France, 86-40, yet never lost their self-belief and grew in confidence at the tournament wore on.
"This is the biggest achievement of my career," he said immediately after the game to FIBAEurope.com.
"We played an excellent game for 40 minutes which is something we needed to do to defeat a Montenegro side that had lost just once."
Sandra Mandir, Croatia's 33-year-old captain, joined in emotional celebrations on the court after her team avenged an 81-60 setback to Montenegro earlier in the tournament.
But Mandir, who will get strong consideration for the MVP of the EuroBasket Women, wasn't at her best on Saturday after collecting three first-half fouls and then picking up a fourth early in the third quarter.
She finished with just five points, two rebounds and two assists and also had four turnovers.
Ivezic, however, was in form with her imperious drives to the basket while Ciglar also came up with a stunning performance for Croatia as they turned a 16-14 deficit at the end of the first quarter into a 38-35 lead at half-time.
The two players punished Montenegro's passive approach on defense in the paint and got numerous open looks.
With Mandir not scoring at her usual rate, Ciglar entered the contest and repeatedly dribbled into the lane to make lay-up after lay-up.
The 1.69m point guard had 14 points at the break on a perfect five-of-five shooting from the floor and three-of-three at the line.
When Ciglar wasn't scoring, she was finding open teammates for baskets.
The 25-year-old had four of her five assists before the break.
Ivezic and Ciglar had 29 of their team's 38 points at the break.
Winners of their first six games at the EuroBasket Women before falling to Turkey in the Quarter-Finals, Montenegro rebounded with a win over Lithuania.
They continued to battle against Croatia and pulled even with 5:37 to go in the third quarter when Jelena Dubljevic hit a three-pointer.
But Ivezic replied immediately with a jump shot and Marta Cakic followed not long after with a shot from the arc to make it 47-42.
Ivezic then hit Montenegro with a dagger, burying a three-ball for a 50-42 advantage.
By the end of the third quarter, the Croatia lead was 55-44 and Bralic's side lowered the boom in the fourth by going in front by 17.
To make matters worse for Montenegro, one of their best players in the EuroBasket Women and the leading scorer of the competition, Iva Perovanovic, went down with a knee injury midway through the fourth quarter.
She had to be helped off the floor and after having her leg put in a split, medical personnel took her out of the arena on a stretcher.