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We’re playing for medals 20 September 2013

Lithuania were never going to take this game easy, and just as well, because we needed every ounce of grit and determination to put away the Italian threat.

Lithuanian Basketball Team Kalnietis and Seibutis

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It was Lithuania’s defence that held the Italians scoreless for half of the last period that allowed us to drag out the four point victory, but even then the last few minutes were far from relaxed as the Italians always managed to stay close enough to threaten.

Our 15 – 0 run in the last stanza, putting us 14 ahead late in the game had the fans singing “Mes Laimejom”, but it was premature when Belinelli hit a three and Gentile added three more from the charity stripe.

With 17 seconds to go the Italians missed a layup that would have got them within four points, but from there the Lithuanians coolly sunk their free throws to take the game in relative calm, compared to an earthquake that is.

Again we had to adapt to our opposition to grind out this win.

Kleiza was well held for the first time and couldn’t find any rhythm from the close checking he was subject to. With only five points for the night he was well under his best, but he continued to fight while Kazlauskas worked around his diminished output.

Kalnietis and Seibutis to the fore, as both equal top-scored with 17 each.

The Italians were intent on drying up the conduit to our bigs and it proved a successful tactic as our height advantage was nullified at the offensive end. At the defensive end we held a considerable 38 – 25 rebound advantage, but offensive boards were even at 9 apiece.

Valanciunas was well held and subbed out on defensive errors and Motiejunas was given extra duty. Donatas worked hard defensively and hit some telling inside shots later in the game that proved decisive. He finished the night with seven.

Filling the void for most of the match were Pocius and Maciulis. Unable to get good position inside, our small forwards responded with old fashioned home delivery – taking the ball to the hoop.

The Italians maintained a good positional defense but were unable to fully contain our ground attack, and while Maciulis is still to find range from beyond the arc, last night Pocius sank three from three from the beyond the trey.

Pocius finished with 11 and Maciulis 13 to go with their exemplary defence.

The basis of the win however stays with our guards.

Kalnietis and Seibutis not only scored, but took 13 rebounds between them, dwarfing the four shared by Motiejunas, Lavrinovic and Valanciunas. Add seven assists between them and you get the picture that they were the engine behind this fine win.

One pleasing aspect is that we are still winning despite not really finding any real team rhythm. We can only imagine what will happen once the team gets going on all cylinders, but for now that seems as unlikely as this tournament becoming easy to predict.

Today we take on Croatia.

Again, a team that on paper we should be able to account for, but they are the team that finished top of their group and should be regarded as favourites.

With an embarrassment of riches in the guard to forward ranks we should be able to take advantage of our depth and their youth to grind out another victory, but they have shown themselves to be hungry and effective all tournament.

The Croatians can shoot, and they average more rebounds than us per game, though only slightly.

With both teams topping most defensive stats, this will be another pressure-cooker tie. Hopefully the boiling point of this cauldron might be our greater depth and extra avenues to goal which could test the defensive flexibility of the Croatians.

The Croatians also bring considerable crowd support with them, so whichever way you look at it they will make a formidable opponent.

Again I have no doubt that Kazlauskas is taking this challenge seriously and will prepare the team accordingly.

For now, all we can do is hang on and help our boys with our support and encouragement – it’s going to be tough.

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