Home FIBA EuroBasket EuroBasket 2023: Qualifiers set the scene for scintillating finals

EuroBasket 2023: Qualifiers set the scene for scintillating finals

After the Czech Republic and Montenegro were able to secure wins in Tel Aviv, the tournament finds itself entirely in Ljubljana the rest of the way.

Germany defeats Slovakia 79-69 (box score)

Despite the strong shooting start for Slovakia, this game was Germany’s from beginning to end. Consistency in defensive energy allowed them to be in the driver’s seat from beginning to end, something that has defined this team and is becoming a part of their identity more and more with every game. You can see the team gain experience each day, all on their way to becoming valuable veterans as they navigate their development through EuroBasket.

Captain Svenja Brunckhorst couldn’t hide her happiness on this development: “Unbelievable, it’s stunning. I watch them and I have to smile so many times when I’m on the court because it’s unbelievable what they’re doing, what they’re capable of. Everyone who’s coming on the court, they come out and ball out and they’re confident and that makes this team so special.”

She carried that smile with her during our chat in the tunnel. Brunckhorst also credited defence in Germany’s ability to keep things close even with Slovakia’s hot start: “We stepped up on defence. The first quarter was not how we wanted to defend the high pick and roll, we had a few problems there. I think we adjusted, especially at halftime, and we came out way better.”

Germany are off to face Spain in the Quarter-Finals, while Slovakia have to pack their bags.

Serbia defeats Great Britain 66-60 (box score)

I’ve been writing these articles in the past tense and I’m breaking a few walls here but just bear with me while I give you a peek behind the kimono. I just asked Serbia’s press officer if I could interview head coach Marina Maljković, he kindly replied “no, it’s a game day, maybe tomorrow.”

All I have to say is that I’m worried about what’s going to happen to Great Britain. All you could hear in the court was the echo of Marina’s Serbian, and silence. I’ve heard silence when it’s been silent before, y’know, like ‘silence is deafening’ type stuff, but I’ve never heard it accompanied by noise. The journalist in me wishes I could have asked my two questions for Marina but the basketball fan in me is glad she didn’t take my interview.

Great Britain were up for the fight. The first half was a defensive arm wrestle in which the poms were dictating massive stretches. They were disrupting Serbia’s flow, not letting them get into their action early and forcing a lot of late-clock situations. Defence was the focus for both teams here and the occasional successful jimmy was going each way. Great Britain were able to break Serbia’s press unreciprocated a few times and lead to easy points, something few and far between for a 29-28 half in favour of the Serbs.

The second half was more of the same. Two teams fighting it out, both well in this game and playing like their life depended on it.

For the game, Serbia came out focused. They came out motivated from their loss against Hungary and it was non-stop all night. As if having played, seen and felt that loss first-hand was the best thing that could have happened to them, knowing not to take winning for granted, knowing that they can lose. I have a feeling that could have been Maljković’s plan as we head into the finals phase. She has been the coach of the tournament so far and beyond the balanced, flowing offence and persistent, turnover-forcing defence, she can light a fire in each of her players. They don’t take a second off with each player present any time they get an opportunity to help this team on the court, it’s a nightmare to come up against.

Great Britain fought valiantly. They understood what the game was calling for and were there all night. There is a lot to be happy about for this team, the final touch will be learning how to win and close out games.

Heading into the Quarter-Finals the bracket looks like this. France and Hungary should be able to take care of business. Same with Spain, although they haven’t looked their best during the tournament and Germany doesn’t give you a night off. That will be one to keep tabs on.

The marquee matchup of the Quarter-Finals and potentially the entirety of EuroBasket, however, is that Belgium-Serbia contest. My pick to win gold at EuroBasket is the winner of this game. Belgian Emma Meesseman has been torching the competition up, leading all scorers with 22.3 points a game in just 25.6 minutes each outing. Fellow countrywoman, Julie Allemand has been torching the competition up, leading all assisters with ten a game, while only giving the ball up 1.3 times each night.

Offensively they’re precise and efficient, able to move the opposing defence with ease and generate great looks. Defensively they have held their opponents to field goal percentages of 37.5 percent, 28.8 percent and 38.7 percent. They have had some great games but they haven’t come up against a defence that comes close to Serbia yet, much like Serbia hasn’t been challenged by an offence quite like Belgium’s.

For the Serbians, defence comes first, as Jovana Nogić shared with me: “We need to bring… energy defensive wise, offensive wise we’re not worried about it, it will come from the defensive end.”

This is going to be an unmissable game, whether it’s 3pm in Ljubljana or 11pm in Melbourne. I think this will be the end of the road for Serbia. It has been a pleasure to watch them compete through the EuroBasket, but Belgium just look too strong.

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