Stockholm – Slovenia finished the first round of qualifying for the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup second in their group having scraped past Sweden 84:81 after a nail-biting finish in Stockholm on Sunday. NBA stars Luka Dončić and Goran Dragić scored 51 points between them as Dragić bid farewell to the national team as its top overall scorer in history.
Slovenia won four out of six matches in the first round for a total of 10 points, which places them second in Group C after Finland, who have got 11. Sweden enter the second round with eight points, while Croatia dropped out.
In the second round, starting in late August, Slovenia will face off Germany, who finished top of their group with 11 points, Israel (9 points) and Estonia (8 points) in Group J, which also includes Sweden. The top three teams advance to the World Cup, to be held in Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines.
After crushing Croatia last Thursday, Slovenia were unable to show off the fast pace they have become known for, having quite some difficulty coping with Sweden’s defence. Sweden also outdid Slovenia on rebounds (38:35) and turnovers with the point per turnover ratio at 19:11.
Slovenia soon opened a double-digit advantage (15:5) but the home team took the lead in the 17th minute for 30:29, retaining a balance in court up to the final seconds. Four minutes to the end of the match the teams were equalised at 75:75.
The superstar Dončić scored 31 points for Slovenia on 10-of-20 shooting from the field, with 10 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals, which gives him efficiency rating of 32. Scoring 11 points in the third quarter, he let Slovenia enter the final part of the game with a nine-point advantage (70:61).
However, after going up to 73:61, Slovenia allowed Sweden to come back. The key points for a win in the dying minutes of the game were scored by the Dragić brothers. Zoran scored a three-pointer for 80:79 and Goran took it to 82:81 in the final second on attack, and then went on to score two free throws two seconds before the final buzzer sound for the final score of 84:81.
In what was supposed to be his last appearance for the national side, captain Goran Dragić scored 20 points for a total of 1,581 points in his 81 official games for Slovenia since 2006, to outperform Jaka Lakovič’s 1,564 points in 86 games.
Commenting on that for the STA, the 36-ear-old stayed modest: “That doesn’t really matter. On the one hand, basketball is a team sport and wins count, but on the other hand, I’m sure the record will not stand for long, because here comes ‘magic’ Luka, who will easily surpass it.”
On Slovenia’s performance he said that despite the excellent atmosphere created by more than 8,500 fans at the Hovet arena that motivated the home team further to nullify Slovenia’s early advantage and keep up until the end of the game, Slovenia won the match with their experience and knowledge.
“The games you need to win are usually the toughest, so we must be happy and keep on the path we have set out,” he said.
Speaking to the STA later, he left the door open for his potential appearance for Slovenia in the Eurobasket. “I’m tempted to play in the Eurobasket,” he said, ruling out his appearance in the August qualifying for the World Cup.