Nikola Vucevic proud of Montenegro’s ‘great fight’ vs Team USA
MANILA, Philippines-Nikola Vucevic is proud of how Montenegro was able to almost push the United States to the limit before bowing out of contention for a quarterfinals slot in the Fiba World Cup.
Montenegro fell 85-73 on Friday at Mall of Asia Arena, but not before capitalizing on its size and playing deliberately to give the Americans their first real scare after sweeping the first round by a combined winning margin of 103.
“It shows the competitiveness and our willingness to compete regardless of what’s going on,” said the Chicago Bulls center who finished with 18 points and 16 rebounds.
Vucevic was not just the only player responsible for Montenegro’s determined effort, with other big men such as Dino Radoncic, Nemanja Radovic and Boban Dubljevic making things tough for American counterparts Jaren Jackson Jr. and Paolo Banchero, known more for their versatility rather than prototypical centers.
Guards Kendrick Perry and Nikola Ivanovic also put up good showings to complement Montenegro, who led 38-37 at the break.
But Team USA eventually was able to figure out the hex, with Anthony Edwards and Austin Reaves hitting crucial shots in the fourth to pull away and assure the five-time winners of a place in the quarters.
“I thought we played a really good game. I’m very proud of my teammates. We were right there for 36 minutes,” said Vucevic.
“Just in the end, I thought their quality prevailed a little bit. They made a lot of good shots in the end, we had some turnovers and some missed looks that we could have converted. Still very proud of what we played. We are complete outsiders and they’re the favorites but we put up a great fight and I’m proud of my teammates.”
The Montenegrins wrap up their campaign on Sunday against Greece, which was likewise eliminated after losing to Lithuania in the other game at Mall of Asia.
Both European teams tote similar 2-2 slates and will aim for the best finish possible before wrapping up their World Cup stints.