LJUBLJANA (EuroBasket/FIBA Basketball World Cup) - Croatia and Lithuania will face off in the Semi-Finals of EuroBasket 2013 after winning their Quarter-Finals on Thursday to book spots in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, where they were joined earlier in the day by hosts Slovenia.
In the day's first Quarter-Final, Croatia got 23 points from Krunoslav Simon and Bojan Bogdanovic scored 14 points in their 84-72 win over Ukraine to return to the Semi-Finals for the first time in 18 years.
In the last Quarter-Final, four players scored in double figures as Lithuania moved into the Semi-Finals for the first time since 2007 with an 81-77 victory over Italy.
While Croatia and Lithuania punched their ticket for FIBA's flagship event, Italy and Ukraine will square off on Friday in 5-8 Classification Round play with the winner of the contest securing a spot at Spain 2014.
Zoran Dragic tallied 23 points in leading Slovenia to a 92-74 win over Serbia in Thursday's 5-8 Classification Round play to secure their berth to the World Cup.
Croatia v Ukraine
With their Quarter-Final win over Ukraine, Croatia became team number 16 to book its place for Spain 2014 and also advanced to the Semi-Finals in Europe for the first time since taking back-to-back bronzes in 1993 and 1995.
"For a long time we didn't make a Semi-Final - 18 years. That was our first goal coming here because this generation is a very talented generation and deserves to be in all competitions," said Croatia coach Jasmin Repesa.
"This story is so beautiful, it would be really bad to stop here. We want to continue. We want to fight."
Ukraine, who were making their debut in the knockout stages of a continental championship, got 19 points, six rebounds and six assists from Eugene 'Pooh' Jeter and 15 points from Viacheslav Kravtsov in the loss.
"The second quarter was our demise. We had way too many turnovers. We never got ourselves organized in the second quarter and our defense became non-existent," said Ukraine coach Mike Fratello.
"Hopefully we'll learn from this game. We have two more games that we have to play."
The EuroBasket 2015 hosts Ukraine still have two more chances to reach next summer's FIBA World Cup.
Ukraine used three-pointers from Sergii Gladyr and Jeter to open a 12-5 lead. Repesa called a timeout and his team responded with a 9-0 run to lead 14-12. The rest of the first quarter was a back-and-forth affair with the scored knotted at 22-22 with seven lead changes and five ties.
Gladyr helped Ukraine pull ahead 28-25 early in the second quarter when Dontaye Draper scored all six of his points in a 19-1 run over a six-minute stretch as Croatia built a 44-29 lead. The cushion grew to 17 points at 49-32 before Croatia went into the break leading 51-35.
The Balkan powers continued their push in the third quarter, growing their lead to 19 points, 61-42, before Kyryl Natyazhko drained two triples in helping Ukraine get back to within nine points 66-57. Croatia still were up 70-61 after three quarters.
A Dario Saric long ball made it 75-61 before two Dmytro Zabirchenko foul shots trimmed the margin to 75-65. Ukraine went five minutes without scoring but allowed just one basket and cut the gap to 78-68 on a Jeter jumper with 1:44 minutes remaining.
Oleksandr Lypovvy could not handle a pass from Gladyr with 1:16 left and Simon and Bogdanovic combined to make six of eight free-throws in the final 61 seconds to secure the win.
Lithuania v Italy
Lithuania return to the Semi-Finals of EuroBasket for the first time since 2007 in Spain, when they went on to take bronze after holding off Italy.
Mantas Kalneitis and Renaldas Seibutis both scored 17 points while Jonas Maciulis added 13 points as Lithuania used a 15-0 fourth quarter run to return to Europe's final four for the first time since 2007 when they went on to take bronze.
"We're very happy to beat such a great team," said Martynas Pocius, who added 11 points in the winning cause. "A little pressure is off. We finally passed the Quarter-Finals. The key was the fourth quarter."
Lithuania coach Jonas Kazlauskas said the game was anyone's to take.
"It was a difficult game for us. I cannot say that someone controlled the game," he explained. "In the end, we found where we are strong, used those positions and we won."
Italy were paced by Marco Belinelli's 22 points while Alessandro Gentile had 15 points.
"I am very proud of my players. They played a very good basketball game. They left everything on the court," said Italy coach Simone Pianigiani.
Darjus Lavrinovic scored five points as Lithuania jumped ahead 9-2. The Baltic side increased that margin to 22-12 late in the first quarter. Gentile’s late pulled the Italians to within 22-15 after one quarter.
Travis Diener came off the bench with seven points as Italy fought back and scratched to within 27-24. Seibutis scored four straight points for Lithuania and a 36-28 lead. But Belinelli and Andrea Cinciarini combined for all 11 points in an 11-4 Italy run and the underdogs were within 40-39 at halftime.
The Azzurri scored first in the second half for their first lead of the game but Lithuania went on a 10-3 run for a 50-44 cushion. Italy bounced right back with a 12-3 surge as Cinciarini scored six points in helping Italy move ahead 56-53. The Italian advantage was 58-57 after 30 minutes.
Lithuania held Italy scoreless for the first six minutes of the fourth quarter and scored 15 unanswered points to take control of the game with a 72-58 lead. A triple by Belinelli and three foul shots by Gentile brought Italy to within 76-70. But Lithuania made free throws down the stretch to ensure the win.
Slovenia v Serbia
In the day's first game, tournament hosts Slovenia bounced back from their Quarter-Final defeat against France to claim their place to next year's FIBA World Cup in Spain after dispatching Serbia in 5-8 Classification Round action.
Zoran Dragic led all scorers, while his brother Goran added 15 points and five assists as Bozidar Maljkovic's side moved into the Fifth-Place Game which will be played on Saturday. Jaka Blazic had 15 points and five rebounds in the winning effort.
"Of course this means a lot to us," said Domen Lorbek, who was unable to play through injury. "We were able to bounce back from the loss yesterday. It was tough after such a short time. But the crowd helped us.
"Zoran was tremendous and we are very happy to reach the World Cup."
"The preparation for this game was very difficult because there was only 14 hours between the game against France and this one," said Maljkovic.
"No one slept last night, three of four of our players had minor injuries. It was very, very difficult. I want to congratulate my players for their excellent defense. It was not easy to play like that against an excellent Serbian team."
Nenad Krstic paced Serbia with 16 points and four rebounds and Djordje Gagic had a dozen.
"We lost the game in the first quarter and the first half," said Serbia coach Dusan Ivkovic.
"They scored 30 points in the first quarter and 53 in the first half. Our defense was not right. It was like two teams moving at different speeds.
"The second half was much better. The team was close to getting the game back. But it was difficult after they led by 20 points."
Serbia guard Stefan Markovic blamed the defeat on another poor start.
"We started the game as bad as in the Quarter-Final and we could not recover. We tried and tried but could not recover. Now we have one more game on Saturday and all our focus is on that game," he said.
"Everything that we worked for during two months will be judged during that game. We need to show what we practised and what we did during the summer in that game."
Serbia - the youngest team at EuroBasket 2013 - will have one more chance to qualify for Spain 2014 in Saturday's Seventh-Place Game. Their opponents in that contest will not be known until Friday afternoon when Ukraine and Italy square off in the day's 5-8 Classification Round game. The Serbs will then play the losing team of that contest on Saturday.
Ivkovic's side started the game with a 6-2 lead but scored just one basket in nearly seven minutes as Slovenia went on a 26-4 run to take a commanding 28-10 lead. The margin was down to 30-17 after one quarter.
A Serbia surge early in the second period cut the deficit to 33-23 but they were unable to get the Dragic brothers under wraps and despite eight points in the period by Krstic, they fell behind 53-35 at halftime.
After Slovenia increased the lead to 23 points, the Serbs put together a 9-0 run early in the third quarter to cut the gap to 14 points. They even got it down to 13 points at 64-51, but the hosts had pushed the cushion back to 16 points - 77-51 - after three periods.
While Slovenia did not let up, the Serbs got within 15 points on Bogdan Bogdanovic's triple to make it 81-66 with less than six minutes to play. With a World Cup spot on the line, Goran Dragic took over and scored Slovenia's next 10 points and increased the margin to 23 points, 91-68.
For full and in-depth coverage of EuroBasket 2013, go to the official website http://www.eurobasket2013.org.