Ukraine and The Czar

After losing to Turkey in overtime on opening night and dropping our second game against Serbia, the Mighty Ukes rallied to beat Germany in the final game of the Spor Toto World Cup in Izmir. Germany entered the contest undefeated after beating Serbia in Game 1 and Turkey in Game 2. They sat out some players in Game 3, but I’m sure they expected to beat us given our 26-point loss to Serbia the previous night.

However, our defense was much better against Germany. We also shot the ball well and took advantage of our fast break opportunities, which resulted in a big overall improvement from the night before. It was good to win one against a high-caliber team, particularly on the last night of the tournement. Despite the loss, Germany wound up placing first in the Spor Toto World Cup. Serbia beat Turkey in Game 3 to clinch second place, while Turkey and Ukraine both wound up 1-2.

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Photos courtesy of Oleksiy Naumov from the Ukrainian Basketball Federation.

Ukraine and The Czar

After a tough overtime loss to Turkey on opening night, the Ukraine faced Serbia in Game 2 of the Spor Toto World Cup. We competed well during the first and second quarters and trailed by just one point at halftime, 38-37. But Serbia wore us down with their tough defense in the second half. They forced turnovers and made it difficult for us to set up our offense. Unable to sustain our momentum, we wound up losing the game by 26 points, 83-57. Serbia is a very good team. They lost to Germany on the first night, but two of Serbia’s starters sat out during that contest. Tomorrow afternoon we will try to regain our footing with a win against the talented German squad. They beat Turkey today, so they’re 2-0 heading into the final game of this exhibition tournament.

USA Basketball: And Then There Were Four

All four of the teams that finished the prelims at the top of their groups have made their way to the semifinals: USA, Lithuania, Turkey and Serbia. Team USA is looking to reclaim their first World Championship since 1994. On Thursday they had to get past Russia in the quarterfinals.

Russia played smart and hard for three-quarters of the game. But ultimately the United States’ defense wore them down and forced big turnovers, which led to easy baskets.

Kevin Durant continues to step up on offense and was sensational along with Russell Westbrook, who played his best all-around game of the tournament.

Lamar Odom also played one of his best games so far. In a subtle way he was the most important player in the game for the United States. Odom was huge on the glass and made things happen with the basketball.

Today USA faces Lithuania in the semifinals. They had an exhibition game against Lithuania just prior to the tournament and beat them 77-61. But the U.S. struggled during the first half and didn’t take its first lead until they got into the third quarter, so the score is deceiving. USA will need to get off to a quick start in today’s meeting. They don’t want to let Lithuania build confidence or momentum.

Coming off of seven straight wins, the wildcard Lithuanian team is having an incredible run. And judging from Lithuania’s outstanding performance against number one ranked Argentina on Thursday, they will be Team USA’s toughest challenge to date. Though a small country, Lithuania has a big tradition of basketball and they are hungry for this title.

Lithuania pounded Argentina with their great shooting. They relied heavily on 3-pointers, hitting 9 out of their first 11 attempts and finishing with 12 for the game.

Both the United States and Lithuania are very physical and athletic, so USA must be on high alert defensively. Derrick Rose will try to push the tempo on offense.

21-year-old Durant will be heavily counted on for scoring, as he’s been throughout the tournament. And Coach K will also be able to turn to his deep bench for reinforcement.

In the second semifinal match of the day Turkey will meet Serbia. No doubt the prospect of competing in the finals has the entire host country on the edge of its seat. The Sinan Erdem Dome will be packed with passionate fans who are ready to jam and the atmosphere will be unbelievable.

USA vs. Lithuania airs live on Saturday, September 11, 2010 at 12 PM ET on ESPN Classic; replay at 1:30 AM ET on ESPN2. Turkey vs. Serbia airs live at 2:30 PM ET on ESPN Classic. Click here to view the rest of the 2010 FIBA World Championship broadcast schedule.