Croatia beats Ukraine to reach EuroBasket semis after 18 years
LJUBLJANA - The Associated Press
Croatia's Damir Markota, who plays for the Turkish club Beşiktaş, celebrates after a EuroBasket European Basketball Championship quarterfinal match against Ukraine at the Stozice Arena, in Ljubljana, Slovenia, Sept. 19. AP photoShooting guard Krunoslav Simon scored 23 points to help Croatia reached the semifinals of the European basketball championship for the first time in 18 years by handling Ukraine 84-72 on Sept. 19.
France and two-time defending champion Spain will contest the other semifinal on Sept. 18.
Since losing its opening game of the tournament to Spain by 28 points, Croatia has won eight straight games.
"It's a long time since we've been in the semifinals. That was the first target for this young, talented generation but this story is too beautiful to stop here," Croatia coach Jasmin Repesa said.
Croatia is seeking to make the podium for the first time since it took bronze at the 1995 tournament in Greece.
Dontaye Draper, Croatia's American-born point guard, had two steals and six points in a key 13-0 run at the start of the second quarter, when Ukraine failed to score in five minutes and had three turnovers while missing five straight 3-point attempts.
"I looked at my teammates and I heard them say, 'Ajde,' and I just tried to get some energy, to get something going, even a foul, anything," said Draper, who finished with six assists and four steals to go with six points. Ajde is Croatian for "come on."
Croatia led by as many as 19. Shooting guard Krunoslav Simon's layup to make it 77-65 and a big block followed by another Ukrainian turnover secured Croatia's win.
"The second quarter was our demise, we lost control of the game then," Ukraine coach Mike Fratello said. "We gave the ball away 17 times and you can't do that against a team like this."
Croatia had only nine turnovers and had 10 more assists than Ukraine. Simon led Croatia with 23 points, while Pooh Jeter, another American-born point guard, had 19 points, six rebounds and six assists for Ukraine, which was in the quarterfinals for the first time.
"We were completely lost in the second quarter, we had six turnovers and that was crucial," said Viacheslav Kravtsov, Ukraine's NBA center.
Earlier, Slovenia earned a place in next year's World Championships by beating Serbia 92-74. Zoran Dragic scored 23 points for Slovenia in a game between two quarterfinal losers. Slovenia will play for fifth place and Serbia for seventh on Sept. 21.
Seventh place will be enough for a slot at the World Cup since host Spain is a direct qualifier and is already in the European semifinals. The top six teams in the tournament aside from Spain qualify.
Slovenia outscored Serbia 30-16 in the first quarter and held on to win. Nenad Krstic had 16 for Serbia, which went 2-for-18 from 3-point range.