VILNIUS - Three games 's three striking victories. Defending basketball champions Lithuania took first place in group B, after three games against Turkey, Croatia and Bulgaria. The win sends them straight to the quarterfinals. Lithuania beat Turkey 87-75 and Croatia 85-67. The last game against Bulgaria (92-79) was a mere formality. "Our new team was overflowing with the will to fight. I told my men that we were all equal and had to be united like a fist," Lithuanian coach Antanas Sireika told journalists.
Prior to the tournament, Croatia's team - with two NBA players - and Turkey - with a handful of Euroleague stars - ambitiously spoke about intentions to crash the renewed Lithuanian team. But after Podgorica's matches, the rivals had to admit to Lithuania's strength.
"We have better players, but Lithuania has a better team," said Turkey's captain Hidayet Turkoglu.
Ramunas Siskauskas, Lithuania's team captain, was unstoppable. When playing Turkey, Siskauskas scored 16 of his game-high 20 points in the first half. And in the game against Croatia, the Lithuanian tallied up 18 points while demonstrating his sharpshooting 's 5 three-point shots from 6 attempts.
Nevertheless, many basketball experts claim that Lithuania's biggest advantage was that nearly half the team scored more than 10 points per match, which makes all members equally strong.
Although secretly hoping, basketball experts did not expect much from this year's national team. Many of Lithuania's key players, whose talent proved crucial to recent international victories, were unavailable for the 2005 EuroBasket. This year's roster includes six athletes making their national team debut.
Sarunas Jasikevicius and Darius Songaila were unable to play due to NBA commitments, while veterans Saulius Stombergas and Eurelijus Zukauskas retired after the Olympics. To make matters worse, injuries forced sharpshooters Arvydas Macijauskas and Dainius Salenga to sit out the tournament. Jasikevicius, Songaila, Stombergas and Macijauskas accounted for more than half of the offensive production for Lithuania in the 2004 Olympics.
As the group stage in Eurobasket 2005 ended on Sep.18, four first-place teams - Russia, Slovenia, Lithuania and Spain - advanced directly to the quarterfinals that will be played on Sep. 22.