The FIBA Men U20 European Championship title contest has been set with the results of two thrilling semifinal contests as Latvia defeated Spain in a game that came down to the final seconds and Italy upended a much taller squad from Russia. The results set up a rematch of the Round 2 match the Latvia won 88:81 without their leading scorer Kaspars Vecvagars, who’s averaging 17.4 points per game through seven games. The final contest will involve two clubs that have never won the FIBA Men U20 European Championship and it’s been 21 years since Italy won Men U22 competition, an age group that is no longer contested. Latvia finished 3rd in the Men U18 Championships in 2007 and 2010 and according to FIBAEurope.com, they won the European Championship for Men in 1935, beating Spain 24-18, and finishing 2nd in 1939 to Lithuania. Italy also has won the European Championship for Men, twice, in both 1983 and 1999.
Italy – Russia, 77:68
Italy comes into the U20 European Championships with the smallest team in the competition, but make up for it with speed and precision. The tallest player on the Italian squad stands only 2.03m, but they play aggressive defense on both ends of the court. On Saturday, they put up points to their margin in three of four quarters to earn a spot in the ‘ship.
At the end of the first frame, Italy held a slight 18:16 lead. In the second frame the clubs exchanged baskets and stayed tight until mid-way through the quarter with Russia up 30:29. At that point the Italians went on a 10:0 run over the next two and a half minutes to build a nine-point margin, 39:30. The Russians hit two consecutive deuces to cut the gap to 39:34. Italy’s Matteo Imbro split a pair of singles to close out scoring in the half with the Italians up 40:34 at the break.
Russia opened the third with a 9:2 run to take a 43:42 advantage with just over five minutes to play in the period. Italy countered with an 11:2 run over the next four minutes to get back up 53:45 with just under two minutes to play in the third 10. That run was started with a triple and a steal off the press to account for five points in 18 seconds. At the end of the third, Italy sported a six-point advantage, 55:49.
Awudu Abass extended the Italian’s lead to 11 with a three-ball 14 seconds after the quarter started, then got a lay-up after Marco Lagana stole a bad pass and got the ball ahead to Abass for the points. Shortly after Imbro took an assist from Abass and dropped a three-pointer to push the lead to 14 with eight minutes on the clock. Artem Komolov hit a triple for Russia, then the Italians connected on two jumpers to get their largest lead of the contest at 15, 67:52. From there on out, Russia was able to only get to within nine, but every time they did the Italians dropped in a shot or two to stretch the lead back again.
Abass led Italy with 18 points, Amedeo Della Valle added 12, and Imbro and Lagana added 10 each. Alexander Zakharov was game-high with 19, Aleksander Gudumak scored 15.
Latvia – Spain, 64:63
Latvia set up the history final with a 64:63 contest that wasn’t fully decided until the final buzzer went off. Spain had their chances, getting a pair of singles with 4 seconds to play, but only connecting on one, then getting a triple off at the buzzer, but coming up empty. Most importantly though, Spain shot a dismal 50% (11 of 22) from the free throw line.
Spain struck early, getting off to a 21:13 advantage after the first 10. Latvia got most of that back by outscoring the Spaniards 22:15 in the second, to head into the break only down 36:35. Spain had built a lead as high as 15 points mid-way through the second frame, before Latvia made some key changes like taking the ball inside to their big man, Andrejs Grazulis, who scored eight during a short run deep into the second.
Latvia took the lead in the third, mostly on their accuracy at the charity stripe, going nine of 10 during the frame, out of the team’s 16 in the quarter. At the end of the frame Latvia held a 51:49 advantage with one block of 10 minutes left to play.
In the fourth The Latvians opened with a quick dunk and a jumper, both by Janis Berzins, putting Latvia up by six. Spain hit nine unanswered to get up 58:55 with six minutes to play. With three and a half minutes to play, the two clubs battled to a 60-all tie. After a Silins jumper that gave Latvia a 52:60 lead, Spain missed five shots in one possession before connecting on a jumper to tie the score again at 62. With 17 seconds to play Berzins was fouled, but he missed both shots, the last one was tipped in by Grazulis for a 64:62 advantage. With four seconds on the clock, Vives was fouled, but could only hit on one of the two free throws to put Spain down 64:63.
Latvia was led by Berzins’ 14P/12R double-double, while Ingus Jakovics and Grazulis finished with 12 points each. Jaime Fernandez led all scorers with 17 points for Spain, who also got a 14P/15R double-double from Daniel Diez.