During an evening which saw Italy, Montenegro and Ukraine qualify to Eurobasket 2013, Croatia was quick to add their names in the participation list with an emphatic win in Nicosia, Cyprus.
Coming off a perfect record of 4/4 wins, Croatia were the great favourites of the match, however it took they some times to establish their superiority over winless Cyprus. During the first quarter Cyprus was leading 17-16 until the lat minute of of the quarter, however a layup by Andric with 25″ on the clock reversed the situation for the away team. Much credit must go to both Bogdanovic and Andric who helped their team coming off the bench and making some shots.
The beginning of the second half could be described as a free throws fest, as Croatia converted 9/10 from the charity strip during the first 5′ of the quarter, while Cyprus scored their first points of the quarter in the same fashion. The highlight of the second quarter was the substituion of Markota with Saric, one of the greatest prospects of the world. The youngster was appearing for Croatia just for the third time at a senior level and made his presense felt. However it was Cyprus’ Anthony King who finished the first half with an offensive rebound and a hook to cut Croatia’s lead to one digit difference, 40-31.
At the beginning of second half both teams tried to play an inside game and both teams’ big men scored several easy points, either in or outside the paint. Andric was quite the sharpshooter for his side converting four of his five total shots of the quarter while Ukic displayed glimpses of his talent with a couple of assists and a couple of threepointers, including a buzzer beater after Saric brought the ball down the ball with just 4″ remaining on the game clock, increasing Croatia’s lead to 65-47.
The fourth and final quarter of the game was one-role show as Croatia strengthened their defense and tried to run, while the home side just run out of gas. As a result the away team finished the game with an emphatic 33-2 run with Saric being the best player on court and finishing strong with 8 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 block as he spent the entire last wuarter on the court. Final score: 98-49 for Croatia.
Overall Croatia has proved to be too good to be even competing in a qualifying round and will probably finish the group with a perfect record while their youngsters promise a bright and promising future. As for the home team they were clearly not ready for the transition from Division 2 to Division 1, but things can only get better for them in the future as they gain experience from such game against high level opponents.
A special mention should go to Dario Saric. The Croatian wunderkid had his best game during his short Croatian senior national team career, totalling 13 points (3/5FG, 6/8FT), 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, 5 drawn fouls and just one turnover in 19 minutes of playing time. He has visibly worked with weights as both his arms and legs look more bulked and toned, his defensive effort and concentration are better than ever and his willingness to push the ball forward and display his athleticism in fast break situations makes him all the more spectacular prospect. However he has to work on his tactical imperfections as he sometimes got in the way of his teammates trying to execute a play.