Olympic Qualifying Preparations in Split: Croatia Basketball Tops Puerto Rico in Friendly

Daniela Rogulj

Updated on:

Burak Canboy
Burak Canboy

The Croatia men’s national team defeated Puerto Rico 74-59 in the preparatory match for the Olympic qualifying tournament in Split at Spaladium arena next week.

After an even first quarter, Croatia pulled ahead in the second and, despite a poorer shooting performance (three-pointers 2-18), easily controlled the game until the end. It should be emphasized that Croatia will be at an even higher level in the Olympic qualifying tournament, especially when Bojan Bogdanović officially joins the team. Bojan arrived in Split on Wednesday and followed the course of events from the bench.


Burak Canboy


Burak Canboy

Croatia played an excellent three quarters defensively and the chemistry and the spirit of unity can be felt in the national team.

It should be mentioned that Mario Hezonja is in great form. He scored 13 points with 6 assists and 3 rebounds. Miro Bilan had 3 rebounds with 15 points, and Ante Žižić (11 points, 5 rebounds) gives great confidence to his teammates by playing under the basket.


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Although Puerto Rico is behind Slovenia in terms of quality, Croatia is certainly improving. And at the right time.


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Veljko Mršić – Croatia coach

“We played a good game, above all great in defense, except for the first 10 minutes. I would say that the defensive performance is in line with what we showed in the first four qualifying matches, the European Championship. The attack worked well at times. However, I expect it to be better, more fluid and to get rid of the ball faster. Following that was our game in the final quarter. That’s what we want. If we play that way, we will have many good attacking positions, and the shots will start to come in. Today we shot badly, but most of those shots were open shots from crafted actions, so that doesn’t worry me.


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Last night we had a solid two-hour training, and the players were certainly tired from it. We’re missing two players who are proudly playing in the NBA Western Conference Finals, and we can’t use them. We will play for them in this tournament as well. We have a good team composed of quality players, but our task is to make a top team because that is the only way to achieve the goal we have. We have not placed any imperative, nor do we want to place it. The current imperative is to be better with each new training. To play as a team, keep this level of defense because then no matter what the attack will be, we can be satisfied and have a great chance to go to the Olympics. We will also need a lot of support from the stands. You saw how much that meant to Split in the Croatian Championship finals and then to Višnjik Zadar. We expect something like that in Split as well, for the audience to be the sixth player and to find that path to success together.”


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Miro Bilan:

“One of the tasks we were given in the locker room was related to a smaller number of received points than against Slovenia. Slovenia went twice over 90, and as the defense has adorned us in the qualifications so far, it is clear why it was imperative, so we succeeded. We played a great 30 minutes as a team with dedicated defense. Until the Olympic qualifying tournament, we have to work on adapting Bogdanović. His appearance instills confidence in us, but because of his quality, it will attract the attention of opposing defenses and open the way for others to make shots. Among other things, opponents will have to prepare a lot more for him and no one doubts that he is a big plus for us. It will surely fall into place. Today, we made some attacks much easier. There’s still room, but I don’t care about the attack. Hezonja is in great shape, so is Ukić. I don’t care about tonight’s trio as long as we share assists and play this kind of defense.”


Burak Canboy


Burak Canboy

Mateo Drežnjak:

“Although it is a friendly match, it is important that we won to raise our self-confidence before the tournament, after two defeats to Slovenia. We started a little more relaxed and then raised the defense, which we did not have in two games against Slovenia. As soon as we raised our aggression in the second quarter and scored a couple of easy points, we were up by 6-7 points, and then by 10, and the advantage grew. Everyone got a chance, and I sincerely hope that there will be more spectators at the qualifiers to support us in a week because it’s easier with the fans. Every match in the tournament will be difficult. The most important thing is to get out of the group first, and then from game to game and, if possible, win the tournament.”


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Source: HKS

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