VILNIUS - Lithuania's national basketball team won five of six games in the European Basketball Championship last week, finishing fifth overall.
The defending European champions were eliminated from title contention with a 63-47 loss to France in the quarterfinals, crushed by the team's powerful defense. Following the match, Vidas Ginevicius said that, "this was the worst match in the history of Lithuanian basketball."
Diaw led the winners with 18 points and 11 rebounds, while Tony Parker and Antoine Rigaudeau each had 11 points. Center Frederic Weis grabbed 11 rebounds. On the Lithuanian side, Ksystof Lavrinovic scored 11 points.
France used its strong man-to-man defense to dominate the game in the first half, with both Diaw and Mickael Pietrus covering Ramunas Siskauskas. Lithuania struggled to score, committing many turnovers early in the second quarter. France kept a safe margin, 16-32, at halftime. Nothing changed after the break, as France kept full control of the game.
"The only loss [in the championship] seems even more painful, because it didn't allow us to finish higher," Lithuanian Coach Antanas Sireika told the daily Lietuvos rytas.
The following day, Lithuania found the strength to beat Russia 89-78 in a consolation game, qualifying for next year's world championship in Japan. Paulius Jankunas scored 19 points, Giedrius Gustas scored 13 and Ramunas Siskauskas added 12. Russia played without Utah Jazz star Andrei Kirilenko, who injured his nose in the 66-61 quarterfinal loss to Greece. Zakhar Pashutin led Russia with 27 points. The victory assured the Baltic state a fifth or sixth place finish, good enough to clinch a spot in Japan.
Lithuania's last game in the championship, against Slovenia, bore only symbolical value. Both teams had already accomplished their goal of qualifying for next year's world championship. However, the Lithuanians seemed more willing to win, and by the third quarter they broke away 56:30. But then Slovenia jumped back into the game, going on a 15-0 run. But Siskauskas scored 5 points in a row for Lithuania, pulling the team together. Lithuania won the match 79:70 and took fifth place, leaving Slovenia in sixth place.
"Prior to the championship, there were many pessimists around. People patted me on the shoulder and extended sympathies. However, I said we would try to achieve our goal 's to qualify for the world championship. Those words came true 's the men fought in every game, except in the quarterfinals with France. In that game, the players had the wrong mood," said Sireika.
The Greek national basketball team won its second European Championship title on Sept. 25, after beating Germany 78-62.
The Championship's top six teams, entitled to attend the World Championship in Japan next year, are: Greece, Germany, France, Spain, Lithuania and Slovenia.