Aug. 6, 2008
RIGA, Latvia - Serbia, featuring Washington State University men's basketball rising-junior Nikola Koprivica, moved into a tie for first place in Group F after defeating previously unbeaten Montenegro, 75-70, Wednesday at the 2008 U20 European Basketball Championship.
Serbia improved to 3-1 overall and moves into a tie for first with Montenegro in Group F. France lost its second-straight game to fall to 2-2, tied with Spain and Latvia for third place in the group. Russia remains winless at 0-4. Serbia will take on Latvia Thursday for a chance to advance to the semifinals.
"After what happened in our group today, it put us in the position for first place in our group," Koprivica said. "If we win tomorrow, it doesn't matter by how much, we will be first in our group which will give us a bigger chance to win in the semifinals. Latvia is really surprising to me. They came in the second group with no wins, but now they're playing pretty well. I was watching them today, they're shooting and running well. I think we're better than they are but if we want to play in the semifinals, we have to beat them tomorrow."
A native of Belgrade, Serbia, Koprivica came off the bench to score three points and grab four rebounds in nine minutes of action. Koprivica is the lone captain of the team.
"Maybe you can't see it in the statistics, but it's a big game about atmosphere and getting this team to play like one unit," Koprvicia said. "It's not easy because it's 12 guys that come together and play together for just a few weeks and you're expecting everyone to play as a team. I've become the captain and I try to create a good atmosphere for the team and unite the guys. Everybody's got something to do on this team. Everybody can score, but we need to have somebody to score, somebody to play defense, somebody who's going to fit in with the team. We try to get the ball to the guys who will make a difference against opponents. We have really good big guys, so we're trying to get the ball down to them as much as possible and hopefully they'll help us win."
Serbia led 26-23 at the end of the first quarter, and extended its lead to eight points at the half with a 43-35 advantage. Trailing at the nine-minute mark in the fourth quarter, Montenegro used a 14-0 run to tie the score at 68 with two minutes to go in the game. Serbia outscored its opponent 7-2 in the final two minutes for the five-point victory.
"It was a really important win for us," Koprivica said. "It was not easy to play against them because yes, we beat them by 20 in the preparation period, but there was a lot of pressure on us to win. We played pretty good the first three quarters. In the fourth quarter, I don't know why, but they made a huge run, but we are much better than they are under the basket with our big guys. We got some key points by some big guys and won by five."
Group play concludes as Serbia takes on championship-host Latvia, Thursday, Aug. 7. All 16 teams take Friday off before bracket play begins Saturday, Aug. 9 prior to the championship, Sunday, Aug. 10.