By Antonis Stroggylakis / email@example.com
Jakarta, Indonesia – Latvia guard Kristers Zoriks had just scored two points, entering the fourth period of the 2023 FIBA World Cup game between his team and defending champion Spain. The Latvian side was down 58 – 47 following a massive collapse in the third period that included a 12-0 run by their opponents.
“I started the game terrible,” Zoriks said in the mixed zone after the game. “I had to do something.”
And something he did. Latvia began chipping away bits and pieces of its deficit but still couldn’t find the man to actually take over and deliver
Enter Zoriks. He buried two 3-pointers in a row to tie the score at 61 and then hit the floater to put his team up 65 – 63 with 3:24 remaining. A couple of plays later, Davis Bertans added one of his classics from the corner to make it 68 – 65 as Latvia remained ahead until the final buzzer.
“That was a team effort,” Zoriks said. “I’m not the game hero. Everyone did their part. That’s how we won the game.”
Zoriks has never faced this kind of competition before. At 23, he spent the first three years of his career with VEF Riga in Latvia and signed with Turkish side Petkim this summer.
It has been quite the experience for him that includes matchups with some players he has been admired since he a kid.
“It’s fun,” Zoriks said when asked how is it for him going up against European basketball superstars like Sergio Llull or Rudy Fernandez and beating them as well. “You always look forward to playing against the best players. Players I’ve watched growing up.”
This win greatly increases the chances for Latvia to advance to the quarterfinals. If they beat Brazil Sunday and Canada defeats Spain they have a place in the Top 8 secured in their first-ever World Championship participation.
“We know that sometimes we’re going to go down and sometimes we’re going to go up. But we had to stay consistent and stay together,” said Latvia forward Rodions Kurucs. “If we keep supporting each other and make the right plays, we’re going to be OK.”
Kurucs finished the game with a team-high 13 points and eight rebounds while defending all over the place and often being forced to fight and hold his ground against the much bigger bodies of the Spanish national team.
He commended how he and his teammates discussed how they could achieve the comeback from down 12 and get the win.
“We had a talk and we decided what we’re going to do because we weren’t playing our game,” Kurucs. “Not sharing our ball. Then we switched it up and we played like we did against France.”
As always, Latvia fans in the Indonesia Arena provided their national team with some pretty loud support. Drums banging, constant chanting and a lot of noise overall.
“I thought there would be less today,” Kurucs said. “But it was the same amount. I’m super happy we have them.”
Photo Credit: FIBA.BASKETBALL