By Ivan Stewart Saldajeno

TIME FOR CELEBRATION. Europe basketball powerhouse team Serbia celebrates after beating Lithuania, 87-68, in the FIBA Basketball World Cup at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City on Tuesday (Sept. 5, 2023). They will face the winner of Canada versus Slovenia in the semi-finals on Sept. 8. (FIBA photo)

MANILA – Serbia advanced further into the FIBA World Cup after romping Lithuania, 87-68, at the start of the final phase on Tuesday night at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.

After a tight first quarter that even saw Lithuania take a 25-24 lead, Serbia ripped Lithuania in the second quarter to spark the breakaway, outscoring them, 25-13, for a 49-38 halftime lead.

Serbia’s domination continued in the second half en route to the rout.

Serbian guard Bogdan Bogdanovic led his team, which will face the winner of the Wednesday night clash between Canada and Slovenia in the semifinals on Friday night, with 21 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals.

Bogdanovic dedicated the win to teammate Boris Simanic whose kidney was removed after getting a bad foul during the game against South Sudan in the elimination phase.

“We were nervous yesterday, moving to another hotel, I was especially nervous, because I was always losing to Lithuania in my young age. I was so nervous. And then I see the message from Borisa, he was saying, ‘Guys, I’m good, don’t worry. Let’s win tonight!’ For him just to think about us after everything that happened to him (losing a kidney), he united us, and that’s an amazing guy. This is for him,” Bogdanovic said.

Tadas Sedekerskis led Lithuania, which was relegated to the classification games for fifth-eighth places, with 14 points, nine rebounds and two assists.

USA moves on to semis

In the second game, USA whipped Italy, 100-63, making it to the semi-finals after missing it in 2019. The win booked them the second Final Four slot after Serbia in the earlier match and will face the winner between Germany and Latvia on Sept. 8.

Mikal Bridges top scored with 24 points and hauled down 7 rebounds.

USA’s full-court zone press tortured Italy and scored 46 points in the first half, opening up a 22-point lead and from then on controlled most of the second half.

“It was our best defensive effort of the tournament to this point, and that’s what it’s going to take to win two more games,” said USA head coach Steve Kerr.

“You always wanna respond to a loss with a competitive effort, and the joy and competitiveness go hand in hand when you compete and play with that kind of force and energy,” he added, referring to the loss against Lithuania in the tournament’s second round.

With this win, the USA qualified for the semi-finals for the eighth time in the FIBA World Cup.

The 37-point margin is the second highest ever in a FIBA World Cup quarter-final game, after USA vs. Slovenia in 2014 (43-point margin, 119-76).

This 37-point loss was Italy’s heaviest ever in a FIBA World Cup game.

Lithuania and Italy will play in the Classification 5-8 game on Sept. 7. (PNA)