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Pedersen's Iceland right in the thick of battle to reach Second Round after fabulous February
REYKJAVIK (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers) - Iceland enjoyed the perfect February window in the World Cup Qualifiers by getting home wins over Finland and the Czech Republic.
Iceland's performances were not flawless, yet wins are wins and, as a result the Nordic side is second in Group F behind the Czechs (3-1) with a 2-2 record.
In addition to Iceland winning on the court, basketball in general won. The Qualifiers are giving fans and the media more reasons to talk about the sport.
"They [the Qualifiers] certainly have developed conversation throughout the year," Iceland coach Craig Pedersen said. "It means the national team has been sort of talked about non-stop since last summer in one way or another.
"'Who's going to be playing?', 'Those were bad losses', 'Who's going to play the next window?', 'Those were good wins' and so on. 'What's going to happen in the summer?', 'Who's going to play?' - the talk is there all the time which is a good thing."
"THEY [THE QUALIFIERS] CERTAINLY HAVE DEVELOPED CONVERSATION THROUGHOUT THE YEAR. IT MEANS THE NATIONAL TEAM HAS BEEN SORT OF TALKED ABOUT NON-STOP SINCE LAST SUMMER IN SOME WAY OR ANOTHER" Pedersen
The windows have also provided Pedersen a chance to see how rapidly 20-year-old center Tryggvi Hlinason is improving with his club, Valencia Basket. In the win over the Czechs, the 7ft 1in (2.15m) pivot had 15 points, 8 rebounds and 3 swats.
"Tryggvi is getting much better," Pedersen said. "From September to November, we could see a huge difference, especially with his defense.
"From November to now, we could also see a difference. He's getting a lot of experience down there of doing things different ways and becoming more and more comfortable with them. Valencia is doing a great job of not only showing him how to do things but also explaining why so he has a better understanding of why he is doing different things."
Hlinason is starting to make a significant impact for Iceland
What seems to be clear for Iceland is that while this national team has played well enough to move into second place, it has a small margin for error. Iceland's fans watched in frustration as Bulgaria fought back from a 12-point deficit to beat their heroes in Reykjavik on November 27, 77-74. The Czechs almost hit back to win in February after trailing by 14 points.
"We looked like we were doing well and they picked up the intensity," Pedersen said. "We actually got some good looks at the basket but couldn't knock any of them down. I was hoping we'd at least get to the foul line a couple of times but that didn't happen, either. They have got a team with a lot of scorers and a lot of good physical strength."
"WE HAVE A LOT OF GOOD EXPERIENCED PLAYERS LIKE HYLNUR [BAERINGSSON] AND JON STEFANSSON THAT REALLY KNOW HOW TO PLAY TOGETHER. IT MIGHT TAKE A WHILE, BUT THERE ARE SOME VERY TALENTED YOUNG PLAYERS AND HOPEFULLY THEY'LL BE ABLE TO STEP IN AND GIVE SOMETHING" Pedersen
On February 25, during the second of Iceland's home games in Reykjavik , Czech center Ondrej Balvin went to the line in the final seconds and made one free-throw and then could have forced overtime with the second but missed.
"Those last foul shots, I was hoping he would miss one," Pedersen said. "He missed the second, they got the offensive rebound and almost put it in for the win, so we escaped.
"We're thankful and lucky that we had a big enough lead to withstand that. The big thing against Bulgaria had been that we had six turnovers in the fourth quarter and that's just too many."
Iceland were all smiles after winning twice in the February window
As Pedersen reflects, not only on February's games but also Iceland's performances the past few years, he believes the program is moving in the right direction.
"I would like to think so," he said. "The players, they've done a great job. We have a lot of good experienced players like Hylnur [Baeringsson] and Jon Stefansson that really know how to play together.
"In this last window, we had a pre-camp practice window for some of the up-and-coming players. I was really impressed by some of the young guys that are going to be future players.
"It might take a while, but there are some very talented young players and hopefully they'll be able to step in and give something. It's not going to be too far down the road when they'll have to do that."