|05 August 2013|
|Jure Balazic made a big statement for his inclusion in the Slovenian national team over the weekend, claiming MVP honours in the Laško Group Tournament|
On Sunday, exactly one month before EuroBasket 2013 tips off, hosts Slovenia emerged victorious in the Laško Group tournament in Celje ahead of Serbia, Latvia and Turkey, with the latter losing all three of their games.
While the tournament served mostly as a test event for EuroBasket and friendly games at such an early stage hardly provide a representative sample of a team's real potential, three of the participating sides - especially Slovenia - have a number of positives to take out of the three days in Celje, while Turkey have been left with plenty of food for thought.
On Friday, Slovenia were excellent on defence during the first half, led Latvia 37-28 at the interval, and held on for a 71-67 win despite a strong finish by the Baltic side.
Bostjan Nachbar paced the hosts with 14 points and Goran Dragic added 11 points and four assists, while Kaspars Berzins finished with a game-high 17 points for Latvia.
In the other game of the opening day, Serbia imposed their tempo right from tip-off and held a 43-27 advantage over Turkey at the interval; Turkey improved defensively in the third quarter to reduce the gap, but a solid finish by Serbia enabled them to clinch a stress-free 78-63 victory.
Captain Nenad Krstić was in fantastic shape for Serbia and led all scorers with 23 points, adding seven rebounds, while young guard Nemanja Nedović finished with 15 points and four assists; for Turkey, who were out-rebounded 41-27. Hedo Turkoglu and Baris Ermis had 11 points apiece.
On Saturday, Slovenia and Serbia were almost level for the first 25 minutes of the encounter, until the hosts pulled away in the clutch and claimed a 67-52 win.
This time Zoran Dragic led his team in scoring with 12 points, while Jure Balazic finished with 11 points and three assists. No player scored in double digits for Serbia, who short-circuited offensively especially in the second half, but Nemanja Bjelica collected eight points and five rebounds.
Also on Saturday, Latvia edged out Turkey 66-61 behind another sparkling display by Kaspars Berzins, who picked up a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Dairis Bertans chipped in with 10 points and two assists for Latvia, while point guard Ender Arslan finished with 10 points and four assists for Turkey and veteran Kerem Gönlüm had 10 rebounds to go with his seven points.
The worse for Turkey came on the final day of the tournament, when they only scored 20 points in the entire second half and fell 72-53 to Slovenia, in a clash of inexplicable high tension and several technical fouls.
|The form of Kaspars Berzins in Celje was an encouraging sign for Latvian fans|
Slovenian big man Gasper Vidmar hit eight of his nine shot attempts from the floor and led all scorers with 16 points, adding 10 rebounds to complete a double-double showing, Jure Balazic had 12 points and Zoran Dragic chipped in with 11 points.
No player scored in double digits for Turkey, who were once again out-rebounded (40-24) and converted only 33 percent of their shots from the floor.
Slovenia head coach Bozidar Maljkovic was cautious in his assessment of this triumphant weekend for his team.
"We should not read too much into these victories, because the balance of power was not realistic," the Serbian tactician said.
"Both Serbia and Turkey will perform much better than this at EuroBasket.
"Probably only Latvia have shown in this tournament something close to their real level.
"So there is no euphoria among the team, because all players are aware that we are not even halfway through preparations yet."
In the other game on Sunday, Serbia outscored Latvia 18-5 in the final frame to resolve emphatically what had been a very close contest for 30 minutes and take a 67-54 victory.
Krstic had another powerful offensive display and led Serbia with 20 points, while Rasko Katic and Nemanja Bjelica contributed 12 points each, the latter also collecting a game-high eight rebounds; Rolands Freimanis had 10 points for Latvia in a losing effort.
Balazic of Slovenia was named as the MVP of the tournament, in what is no doubt a huge confidence boost for the 33-year-old player who is trying to convince coach Maljkovic that he deserves a spot on the national team.
Celje is the venue of Group C at EuroBasket, which means only Slovenia will return there in September, for the First Round of the competition.
The hosts will take on reigning champions Spain, Georgia, Poland, Croatia and the Czech Republic in Group C.