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Jonas Valanciunas 2 by Paul Saini  (Fylmm

Valanciunas And Jankunas Lead Lithuania Past Slovenia 80-76

Even without the Phoenix Suns starting point guard Goran Dragic, Slovenia appeared to have the answer to solve unbeaten Lithuania, but eventually the Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas and the FIBA veteran Paulius Jankunas with 14 points each managed to lead their team to the 80-76 victory.

This would be Lithuania Head Coach Jonas Kazlauskas’ 100th victory since taking over the National team.

Lithuania started out this game ice-cold from the field, playing subpar defense and only a pair of and-one plays and a couple of free throws by Valanciunas for 8 relatively easy points kept them in this contest early on. The Lithuanians shot 33.3 percent from the field in the opening quarter while Slovenia scored easily at a 66.7 percent clip to take a 22-17 lead.

Things only improved slightly from a scoring standpoint for Lithuania in the second quarter as Kazlauskas kept Valanciunas on the bench and his team managed to score 19 points on 5-11 shooting from the field. Slovenia remained in control, adding 20 points and still shooting over 51 percent for the half.

Slovenia had been able to neutralize some of Lithuania’s advantage on the inside by stretching the floor and firing long range three-point shots with the 6’9 31-year-old veteran Miha Zupan doing much of the damage. Valanciunas struggled constantly covering the Slovenian three-point threats on the perimeter at least as much as Slovenia did trying to cover him in the post.

Where Lithuania could only manage to create assisted field goals twice in each of the first two quarters and could neither find the open man nor even simply make the easy play, everyone on Slovenia was sharing the ball. Not having their star point guard wasn’t a problem as Slovenia racked up 10 first half assists and was obviously the better team up to this point in the game.

Valanciunas came out to start the second half and made his impact felt in the paint once again. An emphatic slam brought Lithuania back to within 4 points a couple of minutes in and the pairing of Jankunas and Valanciunas led Lithuania to a 21-12 quarter that gave their side the lead and broke the momentum of their opponent.

Lithuania shot 60.8 percent from the field and held Slovenia to just over 41 percent in the second half to reverse their first half fortunes, however, Slovenia refused to go quietly and with the game winding down Edo Muric made back-to-back three-pointers to close to within 2 points twice in the dying seconds. Down the stretch, it was Lithuania’s point guard Mantas Kalneitis who finally came through with 13 second half points.

Slovenia hoisted 32 three-point attempts and moved the ball well, racking up 17 assists and exposing the weakness of Lithuania’s perimeter defense. Lithuania shot the ball poorly from deep, connecting on just 4-15 long range attempts, but made up for it at the free throw line going 30-35.

The veteran Zupan, who was deaf at birth, led Slovenia with 18 points on 4-5 shooting from three-point range. However, it was their 21-year-old shooting guard Klemen Prepelic that stood out with 17 points and 8 fouls drawn on Lithuania and the 22-year-old forward Muric’s heroic shots at the end.

Former Raptors big man Uros Slokar scored 4 points in just under 9 minutes before fouling out.

It wasn’t a pretty victory for Coach Kazlauskas’ milestone, however, his team did up their intensity in the second half just enough to get the job done.

 

Lithuania v Slovenia 08-18-2014

Lithuania plays again on Thursday against a much tougher opponent – Brazil.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

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