|28 July 2013|
|The fans in Riga will be hoping the home team finish the U18 European Championship on a high - wearing a bronze medal around their necks |
The heart crushing defeat of two winnable semi-final losses won't dampen the mood of Sunday's U18 European Championship Bronze Medal Game between Latvia and Spain.
Latvia fell by four points to Croatia, the same team they defeated in their Second Round opener six days earlier, and the host nation will be ruing not maximising the output of their monstrous big man tandem of Anzejs Pasecniks and Kristaps Porzingis against a smaller Croatian frontline.
Pasecniks dominated en route to an 18-point night, but Porzingis failed to follow up his outstanding quarter-final effort (17 points, eight rebounds and six blocks) and fouled out in the third term after scoring just four points and grabbing a lone rebound.
Swingman Ivars Zvigurs starred in the absence of Porzingis, scoring 18 points including three clutch baskets as part of Latvia's huge, but ultimately unsuccessful, comeback.
Latvia managed just seven field goals outside of the paint from their 68-point semi-final total and need greater outside shooting from their backcourt. Against Croatia, 2.07m Rolands Smits scored three of the team's five three-point baskets while the trio of Kristaps Plavnieks, Davis Geks and Kristaps Gluditis combined to shoot 4-for-23 from the field.
Spain's backcourt production wasn't much better - the team managed five triples, however three of those came in the game's final 30 seconds.
An early standout in Spain's loss was the athletic but raw center Ilimane Diop. The big man turned the game in Spain's favour with energetic stretches in the first and third quarters. Good for more than a highlight worthy dunk, Diop blocked three shots and changed the direction of countless others.
Diop and Jose Nogues make up a relatively strong frontcourt, however it will be the play of Agusti Sans that determines Spain's success. The guard has had an up and down tournament - amazing some days and lacklustre the next, Sans' all-round game and shooting compliment the Spanish running game.
Latvia's tall, but mobile, line-up may have trouble keeping up with the run-and-gun outfit of Spain, but be assured the boisterous home crowd will make watching the Bronze Medal Game one the highlights of the tournament.