AUCKLAND (FIBA U19 World Championship) - Seven straight points from Tomislav Zubcic in the last quarter have lifted Croatia to a tough, 91-78 win over Puerto Rico in front of a huge crowd at the FIBA U19 World Championship quarter finals.
Croatia’s zone defence set up a strong second quarter and provided the launching pad for victory, as the Europeans extended their lead from 20-19 at quarter time to 45-33 at the long break.
But the well supported Croats could not shake the Americans until deep in the final quarter, with brothers Mike Rosario (25 points, 7 rebounds) and Jio Fontan (20 points, 4 assists, 3 steals) penetrating repeatedly and either scoring or finding their big men.
The skilful Rosario kept Puerto Rico within striking distance early on, scoring 8 points in the first quarter and 14 for the half. Croatia’s own lightning quick guard, Toni Prostran was also outstanding, collecting 10 points and 6 assists across the first two periods.
The game seemed all over shortly after half time when Croatia jumped to a 54-33 lead. But an 11-0 run in two minutes had Puerto Rico within 10 points, and back to back threes from Fontan left the game in the balance at three quarter time, 64-57.
Rosario threatened to take over the game early in the last term, as Puerto Rico closed to 66-64 with 7:48 remaining, and 71-68 half way through the period. It was then that Zubcic stepped up and put the game finally out of reach, his 7 points coming in just 75 seconds.
Zubcic finished with 27 points and 8 rebounds, with strong support from Prostran (20 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds) and Mario Delas (19 points, 10 rebounds).
Carlos Lopez battled manfully inside for the Ricans, securing 10 points and 7 rebounds to support his guards.
Croatia now meet the winner of the USA and Canada on Saturday evening at the North Shore Events Centre, while Puerto Rico will play the loser of that game in the battle for positions 5-8.
They said :
Jio Fontan, Puerto Rico
“We gave our all. Croatia’s a tough team to play and they run good sets, their big guys shoot the ball from the outside and finish on the inside, so they’re a real good team and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them take out the gold medal.
The defensive plan was to try and make them take tough shots outside, and try to stop them from getting the ball in the paint, because they’re really skilled in the paint. I think we did a pretty good job in the first half, those guys just hit some big shots.
I think that number 10 (Prostran) is a really good point guard, and what he lacks in athleticism he makes up for in smarts and ball handling.
I think it is a great thing that we have the heart to keep fighting back, but we have been told over and over that we cant afford to do that deeper and deeper (into the tournament), and I think that’s something that bit us on the butt today.”
Mario Delas, Croatia captain
“Like every other game, we play great and then in five minutes we lose everything. But the fans help us lift up and now we’re in the semi finals, it is great.
There is no tired. Semi finals you must play. They (USA) are unbeaten until now, but who knows, we may beat them. We must play our best game of the tournament because they are a great team.”