By Cesare Milanti / email@example.com
MANILA, Philippines – Bouncing back from a slow start and behind a huge scoring effort by Andrejs Grazulis, Latvia outlasted Italy, 87-82, in a classification game (5-8) held in Mall of Asia Arena Thursday.
After being named MVP of the game against Brazil, Andrejs Grazulis had once again a big impact in Latvia’s victory, ending with 28 points, the most scored by any player of Italian tactician Luca Banchi in the 2023 FIBA World Cup, the country’s first appearance in the tournament. The 30-year-old forward made 12/13 from the field, including a clutch triple to push off the late comeback bid. “It’s always nice to win, and that’s a feeling we want to keep in the locker room”, he said after the victory.
“Despite the short time to recover mental and physical energy after the game, one more time it was about to go digger into the venues of this squad. It was very tight in the end, but it’s a good win that will offer the possibility”, Luca Banchi said in the post-game press conference.
Aigars Skele also contributed to Latvia’s run extending to playing for fifth place on Saturday, nearing a double-double with 12 points and nine assists. Fellow playmaker Arturs Zagars had ten points and six assists.
In one of his last games ever, Gigi Datome ended up with 20 points, reaching his best-ever scoring performance in a FIBA World Cup game. With yet another impressive night, Nicolò Melli went close to a double-double with 11 points and nine rebounds.
Gabriele Procida, who came off the bench for 17:41, combined eight points and four offensive boards. “It was tough today, we wanted to finish strong for Gigi. We have to play strong. There will be a reaction the day after tomorrow”, he said in the post-game press conference.
“Congratulations to Luca Banchi, they did an amazing job. We were talking before the game we got both unlucky. I’m so proud to have two Italian coaches in the Top 8. The third one, Sergio Scariolo, missed for nothing. It’s a really good signal for Italian basketball. We are happy because we are on the right way. Gigi is unique. It’s so tough to explain, but unique is something that represents him”, Gianmarco Pozzecco added.
Despite not having Simone Fontecchio available, as he is dealing with a mild fever, Italy started the game on a high note, with Datome scoring 11 points in the first quarter of his second-last-ever professional basketball game, reaching a 13-point lead (23-10) with 3:10 minutes left.
Latvia reduced the gap all the way to two points (38-36) with 3:33 minutes left in the second quarter and managed to put itself ahead at 45-41 before heading to the locker room, getting their first lead of the game so far, with a 2+1 play by Grazulis.
Zagars opened the second half with back-to-back deep three-pointers to give Latvia the highest lead of its game so far at 10 points (52-42). Rodions Kurucs stole the ball for a fast break that extended Latvia’s scoring run to 17-2. Stefano Tonut reduced the deficit to nine points (58-49) with a beautiful reversed layup at 6:06 on the clock in the third.
Italy looked to be bouncing back and entered the last ten minutes of the game with the momentum in its hands, but Skele drained the three to close things up at 67-60. Davis Bertans put his team back ahead of 10 points (72-62) with 7:14 left, and from then on Latvia never slowed down.
PHOTO CREDIT: 2023 FIBA World Cup