Sun, Sep 16, 2007 - Page 22 News List

Greece to meet hosts in semis

FINAL FOUR In the other championship semi three-time champions Lithuania face Russia, who were perturbed by their form after a tricky 74-72 quarter-final win over Croatia

AP , MADRID, SPAIN

If Greece play like they did over the final 92 seconds of their 63-62 win against Slovenia, they just might beat Spain to reach their second straight European Basketball Championship final.

If they repeat the prior 38-and-a-half minutes, they haven't got a chance.

Despite two consecutive heavy-handed losses to Spain, Greece go into the semi-final matchup against the hosts brimming with confidence.

Theodorus Papaloukas, the tournament's best player two years ago when Greece lifted their second European trophy, scored seven points and set up the other three as Greece finished the game on a 10-0 run and beat Slovenia after trailing by 16 with 6 minutes, 49 seconds to play.

"I'll never forget this game, this moment. This team is unbelievable. It shows that we never stop believing," guard Nikolas Zisis said.

But Slovenia -- who have advanced past the group stage only twice -- is one thing. Next it's Spain, at home.

"This was a good lesson for us. It shows that even after losing your concentration you can still come back and win," coach Panagiotis Giannakis said. "If Spain don't get easy chances, we have a chance."

Greece lost 76-58 to Spain in the group stage and 70-47 in the World Championship final last year.

But this third time, it's different.

"Spain are the best team in the tournament. They are in great shape and they play at home. But we are going to fight until the 40 minutes come to an end, like we always do," Greece's Theodorus Papaloukas said.

Spain, who reached the semi-finals for the fifth straight time, also head into the matchup on a roll, winning their six games by an average of 21 points.

"Unfortunately, past games don't count," Spain coach Pepu Hernandez said. "The most important thing [against Greece] is that we stay true to our style of play. I still think we have room to improve."

The biggest intangible could be the capacity crowd of 15,500 expected at the Palacio del Deportes.

"We have the crowd behind us, we are playing as one and we have to take advantage of this," guard Jose Calderon said.

Lithuania go into their semi-final against Russia perturbed by their difficult 74-72 quarter-final win over Croatia.

The three-time champions didn't look like the team that cruised through the tournament unbeaten and the heavy favorites to challenge Spain for the title.

"It's going to be a very hard assignment playing against Russia -- they are a great team, very strong, structured and disciplined," guard Linas Kleiza said. "They have a wonderful and tough defensive system."

Russia return to the last eight for the first time in 10 years. Winners 14 times as the former Soviet Union, they haven't reached the final since they fell to Greece in Athens 20 years ago.

"We surprised a lot of teams by getting here," guard Jon Robert Holden said. "We just have to stay aggressive and play our game."

Also at stake are two Olympic Games qualifying spots. With Spain already qualified thanks to their world title, the silver and bronze medalists will play in Beijing next August.

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