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Lithuania Wins on Valanciunas Double-Double

Lithuania defeated Latvia 67-59 on Friday on the back of a Jonas Valanciunas 11 point 10 rebound double-double and some stingy defense in the painted area. Head Coach Jonas Kazlauskas started his young star center for the first time at the 2013 Eurobasket and Valanciunas got Latvia in foul trouble early and often in the first half.

Latvia did an admirable job for most of this game denying passes into the interior, but when Lithuania was successful, there was little Latvia could do to stop them in the paint. In the first quarter alone Valanciunas drew 3 personal fouls as he led Lithuania to an early 22-17 advantage with 8 points, going 4-4 from the line and finishing a driving layup and an ally-oop dunk.

Valanciunas’ success inside only encouraged Latvia to tighten their interior defense by fronting, backing and even bringing help on the catch, Latvia decided they were not going to be beaten by the Raptors center. Latvia did an increasingly good job of denying the pass and creating turnovers that stopped Lithuania from running away with this game. However, with Valanciunas playing all but 5 minutes of the first half, there was nothing Latvia could do to stop their opponents from building a 39-31 half-time lead.

Valanciunas led all players with 9 points, 8 trips to the free throw line, 6 rebounds and 6 personal fouls drawn at the break.

With Lithuania setting the tone of this game and controlling the boards, Latvia had to hit shots from the outside to stay close and while the contest never became a blow out, Latvia’s poor overall shooting ensured a comeback wasn’t in the cards. Lithuania out rebounded Latvia 48 to 26 and they held Latvia to just 32.8 percent from the field. Over half of Latvia’s shots came from beyond the three-point line and they weren’t falling either.

At the other end, the collapsed Latvian defense left the three-point line virtually undefended and single coverage on Lithuania’s guards and wings on drives to the hoop. No one was leaving Valanciunas to challenge his teammates on shots, layups or rebounds. If Lithuania hadn’t turned the ball over 18 times, often on some very poor passing, this game would have been over before the half.

Valanciunas led Lithuania with 11 points as Kazlauskas spread the minutes out fairly evenly between 10 players. Donatas Motiejunas played a strong game again today, finishing with 9 points and 6 boards and Darjus Lavrinovic was very efficient with 9 points in short minutes.

Rihards Kuksiks led Latvia with 13 points.

Lithuania laid off the three-point shot for the second game in a row, but they did hit on 5-12 long range attempts as Latvia seemed happy to let them have this shot. Jonas Maciulis was 3-3 from deep for 9 points on his only shots of the game.

Even though Lithuania never trailed after Valanciunas returned to close out the first quarter, Latvia’s energy and effort confirmed that there are no opponents in this tournament a team can take lightly as reported by Basketnews.lt.

“It is great that we won. A victory is a victory as the European Championship has no weak opponents,” Lavrinovic said.

Lithuania is now in a 3-way tie for first place in their pool with a 2-1 record. They play Montenegro next on Sunday.

Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre. A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report.

You can follow Stephen on twitter @stevesraptors