AUCKLAND (FIBA U19 World Championship) - In a heart-stopping encounter, the USA have set up a classic final match-up with Greece at the FIBA U19 World Championship in Auckland New Zealand.
The USA prevailed 81-77 but not before a stunning Croatian comeback that treated a near capacity crowd at the North Shore Events Centre to an unforgettable basketball experience.
Croatia started the better of the two teams, leading 6-0 after 2:36, with Mario Delas giving the USA defence problems. It took the Americas runners up another minute to register their first score. But once they did and Delas sat down for Croatia, the US controlled the remainder of the quarter.
The second period belonged to the USA, 24-17, as Seth Curry scored 7 points. The USA out-rebounded Croatia 12-7 and forced 5 turnovers for the quarter to lead 46-33 at half time.
With the USA seemingly cruising to the gold medal game, Mario Delas sparked his team with three interior baskets early in the third quarter.
Tomislav Zubcic then nailed two 3-pointers, and Toni Prostran found Leon Radosevic twice under the ring. When Prostran scored a basket of his own Croatia led 55-53 with 1:39 remaining in the quarter.
The final quarter was a classic, with both teams trading baskets throughout. But it was the USA that kept its nose in front, and with Shelvin Mack hitting a tough pull up and Gordon Hayward hitting 4/4 free throws and pulling in a crucial offensive rebound, the USA secured their 4-point win.
Haywood was again outstanding for the USA with 15 points and 8 rebounds, while Seth Curry (10 points) was crucial in the first half that set up the USA’s victory. Ashton Gibbs (11 points) and Terrico White (10) also scored in double figures.
Prostran led Croatia with 15 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists, and along with Delas (17 points), Zubcic (15 points, 8 rebounds) and Dino Butorac (15 points, 5/7 3pfg) almost led the Croatians into the final.
Croatia face a re-match with Australia to decide the bronze medal, and the USA will play European champions Greece in the gold medal game.
They said :
Shelvin Mack, USA captain :
“It was good for us to get a close one, we haven’t had too many close games so it helps us come together as a team. We just stay together, take it one possession at a time, there were a lot of possessions left in the basketball game when they were making their run in the third quarter.
It’s going to be a tough game (against Greece), we have to come out and focus for the full 40 minutes, and not take plays off like we did today.”
Mario Delas, Croatia captain :
“It was a very tough game, like we expected. But we played very bad in the first half, missed a lot of easy lay-ups. I missed some that are impossible to miss.
But the second half, the coached kicked the table, and we came together and just said ‘let’s play, let’s play’. We came back but unfortunately we lost. I think we are very frustrated.
I am proud of us, how we came back, it was a great thing. But we must keep together now and win the bronze medal game.”