FIBA World Cup Qualifiers: Croatia Loses in Slovenia 97:69 (54:35)

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Photos: FIBA
Photos: FIBA

Tonight’s match-up being found at the bottom of Group C was a big surprise to most basketball fans. Finland and Sweden were able to celebrate big wins against highly-favored Slovenia and the expected runner-up Croatia earlier in the competition. With an 85:69 home win over Sweden, NBA youngster Lauri Markkanen’s team even secured position one in the group and a ticket to the next round of the qualifiers just before tip-off in Ljubljana.

To make up for missed opportunities, the Slovenian national basketball team around NBA star Luka Dončić put on a big show against Croatia for their 12,480 sold-out home crowd at Arena Stožice. An impressive 7-minute 20:0 scoring run in the first quarter already decided the game early and gave the crowd plenty of reason to celebrate. Coach Aleksander Sekulić was able to hold back his horses for most of the remaining 30 minutes.



While NBA sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanović still seemed to suffer from jet lag, only Mario Hezonja seemed to have problems facing a loss, or maybe he was the only player tonight on the team with the checkers who had the skill to put up a fight. Croatia came back in the second quarter by outscoring the hosts 21:27. 15 of Croatia’s first half 35 points were delivered by Hezonja to make it 54:35 at half-time.

Croatian coach Damir Mulaomerović was not able to pull a rabbit out of his hat, but a miracle was just what his team would have needed to come back after Slovenia pulled away to 76:51 by the end of the third quarter. Luka Dončić (18) did not even need to do all the work with Mike Tobey (16) and Goran Dragić (17) chipping in plenty of points for the home team within the first 30 minutes.



So it was no surprise all three of them were given a well-deserved rest at the start of the final 10 minutes. With few minutes left to play, Dončić must have decided that he does not want to give the top-scoring honors to Hezonja and polished up his stats to finish the night with a double-double of  21 points, 10 assists, and 8 rebounds. Goran Dragić finished with 19 points, 8 rebounds and Mike Tobey also finished with a double-double consisting of 16 points and 13 rebounds.

Mario Hezonja led the Croatian team with 22 points and 9 rebounds, just short of a double-double. Bojan Bogdanovicć’s not very convincing game with 13 points was topped by Ivica Zubac’s 14 points and 7 rebounds. Slovenia outscored Croatia in the final quarter by 21:18 to finish the game 97:69. 



Now Croatia not only needs to win against Finland at home on Sunday in Rijeka at 20:00 to keep a minimal chance to still qualify for the World Cup tournament in 2023, but also needs the help from Slovenia to win their away game in Sweden, which will be played also on Sunday but already at 17:00.

Referees: ROSSO, Yohan (France), CASTILLO, Luis (Spain), PROC, Michal (Poland)

Result by quarters: 33:8, 21:27, 22:16, 21:18.


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