Croatia progressed to the semi finals of EuroBasket for the first time since 1995 and secured their spot in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in the process with victory over Ukraine on Thursday.
The game started off with plenty of scoring but with neither side able to open a gap. The first quarter finished 22-22 and it was still tit for tat in the early going of the second before Croatia brought the pain. In the clash of import guards it was Dontaye Draper who proved his worth in the first half as the Real Madrid man spurred a push for the front. It led to some big offence for Croatia and they stuffed Ukraine repeatedly at the other end with their zone press. Pooh Jeter, who has put in some memorable performances in Slovenia, couldn’t get anything going. Croatia stretched it out and pushed into a 51-35 lead at the break.
It simply wouldn’t be a Croatia game at this tournament without a little cause for concern. Sure enough Ukraine came back in the third quarter and cut the deficit slowly. Drawing it down to single digits briefly, Mike Fratello’s charges gave Croatia pause for thought. Ukraine however couldn’t get closer than 9 points. Jeter to his credit fought hard on offence, while Draper had his measure early it was Ukraine’s talisman who came to the fore as the game wore on. He was but one man.
Croatia had options and they used all of them. Krunoslav Simon led all scorers with 23, Bojan Bogdanovic and Damir Markota supported him well. Roko Ukic created, scored, and led his team in rebounds. Draper had 6 assists and 4 steals. Viacheslav Kravtsov was the only man who could support Jeter’s offensive effort but his team’s 17 turnovers and horrible shooting from outside left them out of the race. All of this in spite of a valiant effort on the boards. Croatia were smarter, more accurate, and knew when to hurt Ukraine. This was business like.
Croatia can now look forward to the medal round, with the business of qualifying for Spain next year taken care of. They face the winner of Lithuania and Italy who play later on Thursday. For Ukraine it’s a case of win one and you’re in. They already have their best ever finish at EuroBasket guaranteed but if they can win one more game they will qualify for the World Cup. First up they face the loser of Lithuania and Italy. If they win, they are in. If not, they will have one more shot against a reeling Serbia.