For the first time since gaining independence in 1992, Slovenia are going to the show.
Led by Goran Dragic and Anthony Randolph, Slovenia made the ultimate statement of intent by dethroning the reigning Eurobasket champions and favourites Spain 92-72 in the semi-final in Istanbul to secure their first ever international basketball medal.
Dragic and Randolph led the winners with 15 points and 18-year-old wonderkid Luka Doncic, who chose to play for his native Slovenia over Spain in international play added an incredible statline of 11 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. Doncic though had perhaps his worst shooting performance of the tournament, shooting just 30 percent from the field (3/10), but with the rest of the team in sync, it didn’t matter.
And that is the beauty of this year’s Slovenia side. Away from Dragic and Doncic, there are others that can step up. The naturalised forward Anthony Randolph stepped up, shooting 69 percent from the field and hitting all three of his three-point attempts in a solid display.
One player that has not had the recognition that he deserves is Klemen Prepelic, who had his best game of the tournament, adding 13 points, going 3/4 from three-point land. His all-round hustle at both ends as well constantly annoyed Spain’s offensive sets all-game long and distracted them from their rhythm.
Eurobasket 2015 MVP Pau Gasol led Spain with a game-high 16 points with Ricky Rubio adding 13 but for the first time in his coaching career, Sergio Scariolo will not be coaching a Eurobasket-winning side.
It will be strange not seeing Spain in the Eurobasket final but from the first quarter onwards, they were backed up against the wall, as Slovenia bullied the holders from the perimeter, a three-pointer from Prepelic gave Slovenia a 22-15 lead with 58 seconds left of the first quarter.
And that lead only grew further in the second. A dunk from Randolph in the opening possessions of the second gave the Slovenes a 27-19 lead as Spain’s defence seemed to be nowhere in sight. Sergio Rodriguez seemed to calm things down with a three-pointer but Prepelic made sure the Slovenian fans were jumping again with another triple to restore the eight-point cushion.
Spain though were able to narrow the gap at half-time to just five points (49-44) thanks to the Gasol brothers and even though Slovenia deserved their lead at the break, there was a sense that the holders would overpower their challengers in the second half.
But Slovenia refused to let that happen. Jaka Blazic hit back-to-back baskets inside and a lay-up from Gasper Vidmar gave them their first double-digit cushion and from there Spain could not mount another comeback.
Slovenia will meet the winners of the Serbia-Russia semi-final, which takes place tomorrow.