LJUBLJANA, Slovenia -- Croatia reached the semifinals of the European basketball championship for the first time in 18 years by defeating Ukraine 84-72 Thursday. Croatia will play Lithuania, which edged Italy 81-77. France and two-time defending champion Spain will play the other semifinal on Friday. Croatia has won eight straight games since losing its opening game of the tournament to Spain by 28 points. "Its a long time since weve been in the semifinals. That was the first target for this young, talented generation, but this story is too beautiful to stop here," Croatia coach Jasmin Repesa said. "Honestly, we expected to be in the semis, we have quality and a system." Croatia is seeking to make the podium for the first time since it took bronze at the 1995 tournament in Greece, where it fell to Lithuania in the semifinals. The only time Croatia played in a final was at the 1992 Olympics, when it lost to the U.S. Dream Team. Dontaye Draper, Croatias American-born point guard, had two steals and six points in a key 13-0 run at the start of the second quarter, when Ukraine failed to score in five minutes and had three turnovers while missing five straight 3-point attempts. "I looked at my teammates and I heard them say, Ajde, and I just tried to get some energy, to get something going, even a foul, anything," said Draper, who finished with six assists and four steals to go with six points. Ajde is Croatian for "come on." Croatia used relentless zone pressing to lead by as many as 19. "The second quarter was our demise, we lost control of the game then," Ukraine coach Mike Fratello said. "We gave the ball away 17 times and you cant do that against a team like this." Shooting guard Krunoslav Simon led Croatia with 23 points, while Pooh Jeter, another American-born point guard, had 19 points, six rebounds and six assists for Ukraine, which was in the quarterfinals for the first time. "We were completely lost in the second quarter," said Viacheslav Kravtsov, Ukraines NBA centre. Lithuania won the European title in 2003 and was bronze medallist at the 2010 worlds. But it has not made the podium in Europe since the 2007 bronze and lost in the quarterfinals at home two years ago. Lithuania had a big size advantage over Italy and it was centre Donatas Motiejunas who had a pair of important consecutive layups in the fourth. Since winning a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics, Italy has not been able to reach the quarterfinals in any major competition. It failed to qualify for the last two Olympics and last world championship. "They destroyed us in the low post at the start of the fourth, they have too much size. When you are tired they can use the size for easy baskets," Italy coach Simone Pianigiani said. Earlier, Slovenia earned a place in next years World Cup by beating Serbia 92-74. Slovenia will play for fifth place and Serbia for seventh on Saturday. Ukraine and Italy will decide on Friday which of them will meet Slovenia. Seventh place will earn a spot at the World Cup because host Spain is a direct qualifier and already in the European semifinals. Leonardo Bonucci Jersey
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. -- During a players meeting following the All-Star break, Jermaine ONeal promised his teammates to play the rest of the regular season like he would never play again -- because he very well might not.Sidney Crosby helped spark the golden age of Canadian junior hockey. In 2005, the Pittsburgh Penguins captain and his teammates ended a seven-year gold-medal drought at the world junior championship, which began a stretch of five straight titles.That sets the standard pretty high, Crosby said. Its pretty tough to do that. Its what we try for every year, its what we expect.Lately, the results havent been there. Canada has two silvers and one bronze to show for the past five tournaments, including two at home.Connor McDavid was 12 the last time Canada won gold at the junior level, and hockeys Next One is tired of all the losing.I know people are starting to doubt Canada and they dont really believe anymore, McDavid said. Its annoying a little bit. You see how past people did and how past teams did and how great they were and everything like that. People just dont expect that out of us anymore.They expect us to lose. Thats just not how it should be for Canada.McDavid and his current teammates are out to change all that. The tournament is back in Canada in Montreal and Toronto, and the host nation has an older team and is justifiably favoured to win gold.The past, defenceman Darnell Nurse insists, isnt on his mind or those of his teammates. But Canadas recent past defines its present, and its not pretty.In 2014 and 2013, Canada came away from tournaments in Malmo, Sweden, and Ufa, Russia without medals. Before 2012 bronze, Canada fell short to the U.S. in 2011 and coughed up a three-goal lead to Russia in 2010.To Hockey Canada director of player personnel Ryan Jankowski, the past two years werent good enough, but the previous five years, which included two gold medals in 2008 and 2009 — couldve gone either way. Jankowski pointed out how Canada needed a shootout to beat the U.S. and overtime to beat Sweden and Russia to make it five.We got the bounces for three straight years, we didnt get the bounces for two, and then the last two we havent been as good as we should be, Jankowski said. It is frustrating, but its also how tight international hockey is now.Parity is at the core of Canadas gold medal drought. It feels like an eternity since a run of nine golds in 13 years from 1985 through 1997.Theres so much parity and I think its a good thing for hockey, obviously, said Philadelphia Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds, who was on the 2008 champion Canadian team. Youre getting great players coming from every country. I think its huge for the game. Its building it up, its making it more popular and its just spreading the game worldwide.Having young talent around the world add up to gold medals is great for junior hockey. Russia won with Evgeny Kuznetsov in 2011, SSweden with Filip Forsberg in 2012, the United States with Seth Jones in 2013 and Finland with Teuvo Teravainen in 2014.ddddddddddddCanadas last team to win it included John Tavares, Jordan Eberle, P.K. Subban and Alex Pietrangelo. Current junior winger Jake Virtanen fondly remembers that group.The last time I remember was Eberle, Tavares and those guys when they were unbelievable, Virtanen said. That kind of brings back good memories in my family, and we were pretty happy when Canada won gold.The past handful of teams arent remembered as anything special, even though they had plenty of star players. Nathan MacKinnon, the No. 1 NHL pick in 2013, knows the down side of parity in international hockey.Its good and bad. You always want hockey to be as successful as it can be worldwide, said MacKinnon, who was on the 2013 team that finished off the medal table. But being a homer, you hate to lose and I hated losing there. I think its only a matter time before we kind of get that back.I dont know if we have to adjust and kind of play differently — maybe were playing a little bit too old-school, Im not really sure.MacKinnon expects coach Benoit Groulx to do a good job with this years team, which is headlined by McDavid, Nurse, 2014 No. 2 pick Sam Reinhart and New York Rangers right-winger Anthony Duclair.The online sportsbook Bodog has installed Canada as the 3-to-2 favourite to win the gold medal. And while Nurse said of the pressure of playing at home that at the end of the day, its just hockey, history shows it adds a different element.Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was part of the 2003 team that lost in the gold-medal game to Russia in Halifax, N.S. Fleury loved his time playing for Canada at that tournament but understands theres always more intense pressure on home ice.The guys know it, and they all want to win, Fleury said. You know theres people outside (who) expect you to win. Its not like you dont put it on yourself to win. I think all the guys are accountable to get it done.One of the tough parts of international hockey, as Crosby and MacKinnon pointed out, is that its a one-and-done circumstance come the quarter-finals.Anything can happen, Crosby said. Its not easy.It wont be easy for McDavids Canadian team to get the job done either, but the 17-year-old embraces the opportunity to end the countrys gold-medal drought.With it being on our soil and with the home crowd behind us and stuff like that, I dont see any reason why this cant be the year for Canada, McDavid said. Its our game, hockeys our game and its our pride, its our joy and its our job to put the belief back into Canadians.---Follow @SWhyno on Twitter Cheap NFL Jerseys Wholesale Jerseys Wholesale NFL Jerseys Jerseys From China Wholesale NFL Jerseys Cheap NFL Jerseys Cheap Jerseys Cheap Jerseys
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