U18 European Look back: Big man duo guide Serbia past thrilling Latvia to U18 European repeat
The FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2019 will be here before we all know it. To get ready, here a look back at the four qualifying tournaments.
HERAKLION (FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2019/FIBA U18 European Championship) - Serbia came into the FIBA U18 European Championship 2018 looking to become the first team since Turkey in 2014 to repeat the crown. And they needed their superstar big man combo of Marko Pecarski and Filip Petrusev to get past hosts Latvia in a thrilling title game and leading a sextet of teams to the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2019.
Pecarski and Petrusev were both a year younger when Serbia won the 2017 U18 crown in Bratislava, Slovakia - the country’s first title in the age category since 2009. This time the big goals for the two big men were to lead Serbia back to the U19 World Cup after missing the 2017 edition - not to mention the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2016 - as well as win back-to-back U18 crowns.
Serbia came into the FIBA U18 European Championship 2018 as the reigning champion after taking the title in Slovakia the previous summer.
Serbia’s road to the Final started with a hiccup as they lost 92-87 to Lithuania, giving up a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter. A combined 38 points, 21 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 steals and 2 blocks from Pecarski and Petrusev were not enough. They combined for 45 points, 20 rebounds and 7 assists in a 31-point win over Great Britain and then beat Montenegro 97-95 in overtime thanks to 49 points and 17 rebounds from the two big men. The Round of 16 was a 72-point blowout of Ukraine - with Petrusev and Pecarski picking up 48 points and 18 rebounds. They then had 43 points and 20 rebounds in a tight 6-point win over Germany in the Quarter-Finals to lock up a U19 World Cup berth. In the Semi-Finals, the one-two punch collected 34 points and 21 rebounds in a 78-67 win over France to move into the Final against hosts Latvia.
Latvia, for their part, came into the tournament almost feeling like they needed to prove themselves just being in the event - as the country was actually among the teams in the relegation spots in the 2017 U18 tournament but was not dropped to Division B because it had previously committed to host the 2018 competition. Just like Serbia, Latvia also started the tournament with a loss, falling to Croatia 77-73. They followed that up with a 6-point win over Greece and then beat Italy by 22 points.
In the Round of 16, Latvia went up by 21 points early in the second quarter but then scored just 5 points in the third quarter as survived three Turkey misses in the final 11 seconds for a 62-61 victory. The Quarter-Finals was a 25-point blowout of Great Britain, giving Latvia their first U19 World Cup berth since hosting the event in 2011. And in the Semi-Finals, Latvia pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 91-80 win over Russia with Arturs Zagars pouring in 35 points.
In the Final, Serbia led by 18 points in the second quarter but it was a 4-point game with less than a minute to play. After Serbia pushed the lead to 6 points, the hosts missed three three-pointers in their final two possessions as Serbia grabbed the victory 99-90. Pecarski collected 34 points and 13 rebounds to take home the MVP crown while Petrusev had 29 points and 8 rebounds and Zoran Paunovic picked up 17 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists. Zagars' 26 points including 5 three-pointers and 11 assists were not enough. Serbia were U18 champs for the fourth time following 2007, 2009 and 2017 while Latvia added their first silver to two third-placed finishes in 2007 and 2010.
France and Russia had also reached the 2019 U19 World Cup by reaching the Semi-Finals - France for the second straight time and Russia for the first time since 2013. In the Third Place Game, France fought back from a 14-point third quarter deficit to win 79-70. Joel Ayayi scored 22 points and Mathis Dossou Yovo picked up 21 points and 10 rebounds for France, who lost to Russia and Germany in the group stage before beating Greece by 5 points and then knocking off Montenegro in overtime in the Quarter-Finals. Russia lost to Germany in their opener and then reeled off wins over Turkey, Italy and Lithuania before falling to Latvia in the Semi-Finals.
The fifth spot in the U19 World Cup was also up for grabs and Lithuania were facing Germany in the decider. Lithuania won their first four games - including beating eventual champs Serbia - but then lost to Russia in the Quarter-Finals. Erikas Venskus, Rokas Jokubaitis and co. rebounded and eased past Great Britain to set up the German showdown.
Lithuania are heading back to the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup.
Germany were beaten by Turkey before knocking off Russia, France and Croatia to reach the Quarter-Finals, where they ran into a Serbian buzzsaw. Germany rolled past Montenegro by 24 points in the Classification 5-8 game and then were rolled themselves by Lithuania, 83-55, trailing 50-30 at halftime, as Lithuania booked the last ticket to the U19 World Cup - for back-to-back appearances while Germany missed out on two straight after waiting 30 years for their showing in 2017.
Finland saved themselves from relegation to Division B with a thrilling overtime win over Greece.
The relegation drama saw Ukraine and Bosnia and Herzegovina finish 15th and 16th, respectively and the game for 13th place was between Finland and Greece. The Finns ended up winning 89-85 in overtime. Ville Tahvanainen nailed 8 three-pointers for 35 points and Mikael Jantunen had 22 points and 16 rebounds for Finland, but Greece were not relegated as they had set up to host the U18 tournament in 2019. That meant that only Ukraine and Bosnia and Herzegovina would be dropped to Division B and only the top two teams from Division B would be promoted for the summer of 2019.