|22 August 2010|
Much can happen in the space of a few weeks when it comes to EuroBasket qualifying games.
Italy are a great example of that.
Looking dead and buried after three defeats in their first four games, the Italians have resuscitated their chances of making it to the Final Round in Lithuania next year with hugely impressive performances against Israel (August 17) and on Friday night, Latvia.
Simone Pianigiani's Azzurri prevailed against the Latvians 109-93 in Bari to improve to 3-3 in Group B.
They trail first-place Montenegro (5-1) and lead Israel (3-2) by a point, although Arik Shivek's Israelis have a game in hand.
The winners of the three groups advance to the Final Round, as well as the two best second-placed teams.
Pianigiani spoke about the win over Latvia.
"We have taken another step ahead in our journey of growth," he said.
"This has been an important game considering the nervous energy that we carried after our two defeats at the starT, and the hard work we have put into it in order to improve as fast as possible."
For Italy, Andrea Bargnani had 30 points and 13 rebounds, and Marco Belinelli poured in 19, handed out four assists and grabbed seven boards.
Both NBA players, the focal points of the squad, excelled, along with Jacopo Giachetti who drilled all 13 of his free-throws and finished with 18 points.
"It has been another great game, played with the right distribution of shots and the responsibility against a difficult team that only a few days ago put up 84 points against Montenegro," Pianigiani said.
"We dominated the game, an excellent game with the exception of the last two or three minutes in which we could have extended our lead. I am satisfied."
Italy have two hard games coming up.
They must travel to Finland and then close their qualifying campaign against Montenegro.
Israel have to play at Latvia and then host Finland before finishing up at the Montenegrins.
Equally important for Italy on Friday was a result that finally gave Portuguese fans something to cheer about.
Portugal won for the first time in six games, edging Poland in overtime.
The result was significant as Poland, like Italy, are trying to finish as one of the best second-place teams.
In fact, they had designs on winning Group C but now are 3-3 and trail Belgium (4-1) after falling 85-84 in overtime.
David Gomes sealed victory at the end after being fouled by Marcin Gortat, Poland's big center, with just one second remaining in the extra period.
Gomes split a pair of free-throws, making the first and missing the second.
Portugal coach Moncho Lopez saluted his team, recognizing "the attitude, dedication and discipline of the Portuguese players."