Vilnius - It was just too good to be true. Having beaten the U.S.A., Australia and China to reach the semifinals of the men's basketball at Athens, it all went horribly wrong for Lithuania at the last hurdle.
Lithuania had been the pre-tournament favorites, along with the U.S.A., to reach the finals, but the team simply lacked inspiration against a disciplined but lackluster Italian side.
Lithuania trailed 73-63 going into the last quarter when captain Saulius Stombergas spearheaded a comeback, converting a three-point play and following with a three-point basket that brought Lithuania to 73-72 with just over eight minutes to play.
Stombergas also made the pass that led to two Eurelijus Zukauskas free throws which put Lithuania back on top 74-73, and then added another three-pointer to increase the lead to 77-73 with 7:15 remaining.
But Italy scored 16 of the next 18 points, with Basile and Galanda sinking 3-pointers to hold off Lithuania down the stretch. Italy finally clinched the game 100-91.
Vilnius was eerily quiet after the result, and the massive street party that had been planned never happened. And no one really much cared that Lithuania lost 96-104 to the U.S.A for the bronze medal. Lithuania won the bronze medal at the previous three Olympics.