Goran Dragic provided Slovenia with an inexhaustible energy source and Ukraine with a constant headache. The Phoenix Sun point guard finished with a game-high 19 points and dished out four assists along with seven rebounds as Slovenia slid past Ukraine 69-63 to capture fifth place in the FIBA Europe Championships on Sept. 21.
Ukraine appeared to have the fresher legs of the two during the opening quarter.
Sergii Gladyr drilled a triple from the left wing with 45 seconds on the clock to cap a 10-0 run and put Ukraine 23-16 after the first period of play.
Slovenia’s second unit, led by Edo Muric and Gaspar Vidma, reeled off 11 consecutive points in the second quarter and led 27-23 following a Vidma dunk with 6:23 left in the half.
Then with Slovenia leading 33-30, Dragic reeled off seven straight points -- three free throws, a jumper and a lay-up -- in a span of 46 seconds to push their lead to 40-30, but Maksym Pustozvonov and Eugene Jeter sunk one three-pointer apiece in Ukraine's last two possessions of the first half to reduce the gap to 40-36 at the break.
Slovenia tightened their defense in the third quarter.
After Jure Balazic hit a triple from the right shoulder with 1:18 left in the third, Slovenia got a stop on defense and Vidmar finished a fast break with a one-handed dunk to give them their biggest lead in the game, 54-42, with 54 seconds remaining to the third buzzer.
Ukraine got back into the game at the start of the fourth quarter as Ihor Zaytsev started to establish himself in the low post. Zaytsev, who scored eight of his 12 points in the quarter, hit a jumper to reduce Slovenia’s lead to 62-58 with 4:31 left to play.
Then Dragic re-entered the game.
Following a miss baseline shot by Ukraine’s Kyryl Natyazhko, Dragic darted down the court and scored an amazing lay-up on the fast break. He then hit a triple to give Slovenia a 67-59 cushion with 3:13 to go.
Ukraine qualified for the 2014 World Cup with a sixth place finish.