They made it hard at times, but Croatia are in the semi-finals of Eurobasket and they have progressed to the FIBA World Cup.

Croatia defeated a spirited Ukraine side 84-72 in the quarter-finals of Eurobasket at the Stozice Arena, led by Krunoslav Simon’s 23 points and Bojan Bogdanovic’s 14 points.

“This was well earned,” Bogdanovic said afterwards. “We knew Ukraine were going to play hard, be physical. I feel we matched them and played better over the course of the game. We earned this win, no doubt.”

A second quarter burst from Croatia where they scored 29 points to Ukraine’s 13 proved to be the game’s turning point. It was a period where Ukraine simply could not score for large chucks of the period as Croatia took advantage and hit them in the open court.

“The second quarter was our demise,” said Ukraine coach Mike Fratello. “We had way too many turnovers, never got ourselves organised in the second quarter, our defence was non-existent, we gave up 22 points in the first quarter, and gave up 29 points in the second quarter, so we lost control in the game there.”

Ukraine took the early initiative in the first quarter; a three from Eugene Jeter followed by a bucket from Maxym Korniyenko gave them a 12-5 lead. The Eastern Europeans were running the floor with great success and with ease. Croatia allowing them to get out into the open court and score with ease.

One timeout from Croatia coach Jasmin Repesa later and the pendulum momentarily swung Croatia’s way.

“[Coach told us] to calm down,” Croatia’s Dontaye Draper said. “With a big amount of fan support, there was pressure on us, but coach called us in, told us to calm down and play our game and that’s what we did.”

A 9-0 run off the timeout saw Croatia lead 14-12 but they couldn’t go further in a free-flowing first quarter of play. The scores tied up at 22-22; a fair reflection of proceedings.

Croatia then went up the gears in the second period. The passing was sublime as Ukraine were stretched defensively. Offensively, they couldn’t buy a bucket for large parts. A steal from defensive specialist Draper, leading to a simple score at the other end forced Fratello into calling a timeout – his side, static on offence – and all at sea, defensively.

It took until the third quarter for Ukraine to get going again. A 12-4 run, mid-way through narrowed the gap to 61-49 and they then narrowed it further to 70-61 in the dying seconds of the period thanks to a lay-up in transition from Sergii Gladyr.

The Croatians weathered the storm though.  Ukraine’s failure to even catch the ball in the post proved to be costly. A three-pointer from the 19-year-old Dario Saric with 7:57 remaining was vital, as Croatia’s lead went to 75-61 and even if it was in the early stages of the final quarter Ukraine had nothing left, Croatia celebrated their first Eurobasket semi-final spot since 1995.

“They just played a better game than us. We fought hard and can be proud of what we’ve done here. We still got some more games to come and we want to finish as high as we can,” said Jeter who led Ukraine with 19 points.

Slovenia shakes off late night blues to beat Serbia

Earlier in the day, hosts Slovenia qualified for next year’s FIBA World Cup by beating Serbia 92-74.

Still reeling from last night’s defeat to France, Slovenia were down 6-2 in the first possessions of the game. They then turned the game around, racing out to a 26-4 run and from there, safely went across the finish line.

Zoran Dragic led all scorers with 23 points and nine rebounds for Slovenia as they shot 41 percent from the floor compared to Serbia’s 37. Nenad Krstic led the way with 16 points for the Serbs.

Photo courtesy of FIBA Europe