Seeing teams like France, Lithuania, Spain, and Russia at 2-0 was expected before the first Window of the FIBA World Cup qualifiers, but seeing Bosnia and Herzegovina ease through to a perfect record comes as a surprise.
Coach Vedran Bosnic’s team came from -14 to defeat the Czech Republic 97-90 on Friday, sending a message that they aren’t intimidated by a participant of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and the host of the FIBA EuroBasket 2022.
Then, on Monday, Bosnia, and Herzegovina led for 38 minutes on the road in Bulgaria, opening up a 19-point lead at one point, finishing the game with no stress in an 85-75 win in Botevgrad.
Why is it such a big deal that Bosnia and Herzegovina went to 2-0?
Because in November 2018, Bosnic took over. His first game was in Botevgrad when he lost to Bulgaria 89-82. A couple of months later, the Czech Republic held BIH to 64 points and handed them another loss in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Qualifiers.
Fast forward three years, they are defeating the same opponents to get two steps closer to the global scene. Bosnia and Herzegovina never reached the World Cup. Their secret recipe for success this time around must be love, love, love.
Bulgaria fell to 0-2, the same record that the Czech Republic owns in Group F. Bosnia and Herzegovina are sharing the top of the group with Lithuania, who presented a new-look team. In February, Lithuania and BIH will play back-to-back home-and-away games. Mark your calendars for those two matchups in 2022.
In Group E, France was not bothered one bit by Hungary in a battle of the previously unbeaten teams. Vincent Collet’s men stormed to a 78-54 win on the road to go to 2-0, getting 34 points from Louis Labeyrie and Mouhammadou Jaiteh done on 14-of-14 combined shooting from the field.
Hungary dropped to 1-1, sharing the second spot with Montenegro before their two matchups in February. Montenegro switched through gears in the second half against Portugal, winning the game 83-69 with 22 points from Justin Cobbs, sending Portugal to 0-2.
In Group G, the defending World Cup winners Spain were on cruise control against Georgia, taking full advantage of the fact that Tornike Shengelia was not playing. It finished 89-61, all 12 men getting no less than 11:48 and no more than 21:38 of playing time for coach Sergio Scariolo.
Xabi Lopez-Arostegui had 14 points to lead the scoring, Jaime Fernandez scored 13, Yankuba Sima 10 with eight rebounds. Every single player scored for Spain in this game, compared to just six scorers by Georgia.
Spain is at 2-0. Georgia shares a 1-1 record with Ukraine, which had their troubles against North Macedonia on Monday. But Ainars Bagatskis found the panacea for the poison in the final quarter, winning those ten minutes by 15 to win the game 78-61. Artem Pustovyi went 8-of-9 from the field for 18 points.
In Group H, Russia allowed no surprises against Iceland, leading by 41, winning 89-65 to climb to 2-0. Zoran Lukic had the same game plan as coach Scariolo. All 12 men played, all 12 men scored, Andrey Zubkov picking up 14 points off the bench.
Iceland is still in a good position because they won their first game. Italy also went up to 1-1 with a tense win over the Netherlands, 75-73 in Mediolanum Forum. Stefano Tonut knocked down a big three-pointer to break the deadlock late in the game, Oranje had a chance to tie it, but Worthy De Jong went in for a quick two instead of a three-point attempt with five seconds remaining.
By the time the Netherlands reached penalty and sent Michele Vitali to the charity stripe, there were only 0.5 seconds left on the game clock, enough for Vitali to intentionally miss the second free throw and let the time run out.
Tonut finished with 13, but Nicola Akele’s 18 points kept Italy in front throughout the game. Meanwhile, De Jong and company are down at 0-2, not the score they wanted from the first Window.
There was also one Group A game. Latvia got 28 points from Rihards Lomazs to defeat Slovakia 82-74, tying Latvia with Serbia at 1-1, behind the 2-0 Belgium. Slovakia was close in this one, but they are down to 0-2 and have a couple of games against Serbia next, in February.