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Spain hope to rebound but face a resurgent Latvia
MADRID (FIBA Basketball 2019 European Qualifiers) - Spain go into Monday's clash with Latvia looking to show that their 76-65 defeat at Ukraine was a blip and not a sign that the country's European Qualifiers campaign is taking a negative turn.
Winners of all six games in the opening phase, they will lose sole possession of first place in Group I with a defeat to Latvia, who are 5-2 after their 85-74 home triumph over Slovenia.
Jannis Timma is a real weapon for Latvia
Spain coach Sergio Scariolo, who has led the national team to many of its greatest moments since their famous FIBA EuroBasket 2009 triumph in Poland, is certainly upbeat.
"The situation is very favorable," he said.
"We depend on ourselves. Since the end of the First Round, we were clear that by winning the home games, we could finish first. There is no anxiety about qualifying (for the World Cup) before or after."
“YOU HAVE TO ACCEPT THE DEFEAT, RESET AND GET THE SEVENTH VICTORY ON MONDAY”
Even so, the result against Ukraine has taken some of the shine off Spain's campaign, and it happened even with veteran point guard Sergio Rodriguez making his debut in the Qualifiers.
"You have to accept the defeat, reset and get the seventh victory on Monday," said veteran guard Quino Colom, one of the Spaniards to have featured in all seven games.
Pablo Aguilar also stressed the need to look forward.
"The (Ukraine) game has already passed," he said. "We weren't successful. I think we have to turn the page because on Monday, we have an important game and we have to focus."
Colom had 15 points in the defeat to Ukraine
Spain are still in a strong position in terms of clinching a top three spot to reach the World Cup but nothing can be taken for granted. Turkey are 5-2 after their 79-69 home win over Montenegro so both they and Latvia are just a game behind while Ukraine are now 4-3 and in fourth place. Every team has five games remaining so a lot can happen between now and the end of the Qualifiers.
What may cause some anxiety for Spain fans is that Monday's opponents are a far different team to the one that stumbled to a 1-2 start. The Baltic side goes into the clash riding a four-game winning streak.
The team was in buoyant mood after the win over Slovenia.
Aigars Skele, who had 12 points, said: "Let's try to do the same in Spain."
Arnis Vecvagars, the Latvia coach, says Spain still have the same approach to games, despite the absences of numerous veterans.
"The style of the game is the same - fast and dynamic basketball," he said.
He wants his players to attack but to work for good shots, and to make sure his team "gets back quickly on defense and prevents them from gaining easy points - this will be the primary task of defense."
Spain will have to keep an eye on Jannis Timma and Jannis Strelnieks, who each poured in 18 points against the Slovenians and finished with double-doubles.
When the latter wasn't scoring, he was setting up his teammates and finished with 10 assists while in addition to his scoring, Timma corralled 12 rebounds.