RIGA (FIBA U19 World Championship) – For Serbia to claim gold on Sunday afternoon the game plan sounds simple enough: shutdown Jonas Valanciunas. But effectively executing the game plan is a whole different scenario.
At this tournament one player has stood hands and shoulders above the rest – both literally and figuratively. Leading the tournament in both points and rebounds, no other player has come close to leaving their mark on this tournament like Lithuania’s 2.11 metre center Valanciunas.
Every press conference at the FIBA U19 World Championships following a game involving Lithuania follows a similar pattern. Lithuanian Coach Kazys Maksvytis will make a remark regarding the main role Valanciunas played in his side’s win and how his plan to get the ball to his center was well executed while the trainer sitting at the other end of the podium will put his team’s loss down to their inability to stop the Lithuanian superstar.
But Lithuania do not come without weaknesses that Serbia need to take advantage of. Losing backup point guard Renaldas Simanivicius to a badly sprained ankle in their Semi Final leaves them without a genuine second option at point guard to support Vytenis Cizauskas.
Lithuania also reminded us of their age and inexperience against Russia, allowing them to come within striking distance late in the game after leading by as much as 33 points. Following the match, Coach Maksvytis admitted that concentration may have been a problem with his team already thinking of the final. Having beaten Serbia by 17 points earlier in the tournament his young team must not let complacency slip into their game.
In Alexander Cvetkovic, Cizauskas has a more than worthy adversary with the point guards providing perhaps the most intriguing match-up. The two are averaging similar points per game in Latvia and both of their teams have lacked direction with them off the court. Serbia have been involved in a number of close battles in Latvia to date with Cvetkovic often proving himself to be the difference with an ability to make shots count in crucial moments.
Perhaps however, Serbia’s most important player will be 2.21 meter center Nemanja Besovic who will be handed the personal responsibility of neutralizing Valanciunas. Besovic had a quiet start to the tournament but has hit his straps at the right time, playing key roles in his side quarter and semifinal victories with his semifinal 15 point, seven rebound haul against Argentina his best performance in Riga to date. If he can control play under the basket and limit the number of offensive rebounds on offer for Valancunias, he will go a long way to helping Serbia get over the line.
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