|Oleksiy Pecherov believes Ukraine has what it takes to reach the next round |
By Yarone Arbel
After Bulgaria ended a long losing streak at EuroBasket on Thursday, another team in Klaipeda made a piece of history in its own right on Saturday, although on a small scale.
Ukraine's 67-56 win over Bulgaria ended a decade-long wait for a win at EuroBasket.
It was actually 10 years and two days ago since Ukraine had last won a game in EuroBasket.
The victim on September 1st 2001 was no other than powerhouse France, who lost 89-86, yet still kept Ukraine from making it to the next round.
A young Serhiy Lishchuk scored his first-ever points on the biggest stage of Europe.
Nowadays Lishchuk is part of team Ukraine and, together with three other players, forms one of the more intimidating frontlines of this championship.
NBA player Kyrylo Fesenko, Viacheslav Kravtsov - who displayed his talent in the Euro-Challenge - and Oleksiy Pecherov, who played for Armani Jeans Milano last season, combine with Lishchuk to make up a quartet of players standing at 2.10m or higher.
"It's very exciting to be part of a team that won the first game for Ukraine in 10 years," said Pecherov, before quickly adding his next thought.
"We didn't come here to win just one game to break this streak. We want to make it to the next round and I believe we can do that.
"We came very close to beat Russia and Slovenia and that gave us some confidence for the future.
"Today we executed and played tough and that's what made a big difference in our favor," he explained.
"Tomorrow there's a very big game for us against Georgia who showed how well they can play so far.
"We'll need to limit our turnovers and do a better job on the rebound if we want to beat them.
"Tomorrow morning we'll get the game plan from our coaching staff and if we follow that we'll be on the right way to make good things happen for us."
In the last two EuroBasket qualifying rounds, Pecherov was one of the main players for his team, averaging 16.8 points and 9.7 in 2009 and 13.8 points and 6.0 rebounds coming to Lithuania.
Over the first three games, he has struggled, averaging just 3.7 points and 4.7 rebounds, but his talent and role are evidently important for his team.
"I don't have a great tournament so far, and when I scored my first three-pointer in the championship today I was very happy," he commented on the shot that helped Ukraine create the deciding run at the end of the third quarter.
A big change from the past in Ukraine takes place on the bench where fans can see American coach Mike Fratello guiding the team.
Pecherov, who spent some years in the NBA, sees this change in a very positive way.
"I think it's a great thing that we have Coach Fratello and his team guiding us, and that decision was a very smart one," he offered.
"He brings so much experience and in the two months we're together we all learned so much.
"The good side is that we're all becoming better players under him and his staff, and winning games is a result of that."
Tomorrow at 15:30, in the first game of Game Day 5, Ukraine will take on Georgia and try to keep the momentum going for one more day at least.
With a win, their progression to the next round will be closer than ever - and breaking the 10-year losing streak will be relegated to a side story of their 2011 journey.