FIBA World Cup

‘Small country’ Montenegro proud to make USA sweat

Jasmine W. Payo

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‘Small country’ Montenegro proud to make USA sweat

FIGHTING. Montenegro's Nikola Vucevic (center) and his teammates react during the game against the United States.

Lisa Marie David/REUTERS

Montenegro, a country of just over 600,000 people, feels really proud to have pushed mighty USA on the edge all game

MANILA, Philippines – It’a loss that didn’t feel like one.

Expected to be rolled over by the all-NBA USA squad, Montenegro surprisingly came out charging from the get-go, and for the first time, made the Americans look very much vulnerable in the FIBA World Cup.

“What can I say? I’m really happy how we opened the game and how we played this game against the United States,” said Montenegrin center Marko Simonovic.  

“They are maybe the best team here in the World Cup. So I’m really proud of my team, my teammates, coaching staff, everybody who is on our team.”

The Montenegrins led for most of the first half and the Americans – who had an average winning margin of 34.3 points in the first round – still couldn’t shake them off after the break.

In the end, though, elite talent carried the Americans through, with explosive guard Anthony Edwards willing them to an 85-73 triumph on Friday night, September 1, at the Mall of Asia Arena. 

“Small country like Montenegro of 600,000 people, we played tonight one of the best games ever. We played such a good team – very talented, very athletic like the United States – and we we were in the game 35 minutes,” said Montenegro coach Bosko Radovic.

Although the Montenegrins had an NBA player in Chicago Bulls star Nikola Vucevic, who dropped a double-double of 18 points and 16 rebounds, they knew it was tough to match the all-around firepower of the Americans.

“We tried to prepare something that would change a little bit the offense and defense of the American team…but like I said before, we didn’t score in some key moments of the game,” said Radovic as his squad slipped to a 2-2 record. 

USA coach Steve Kerr admitted the Montenegrins came in well-prepared against his crew, who booked a quarterfinal berth after staying unbeaten in four games.

“I thought Montenegro was fantastic. That’s a really well-coached team,” said Kerr. “They had their game plan, everybody knew their roles, and they executed. They got 22 offensive boards, tried to pound us inside.”

So even as Montenegro wraps up its campaign on Sunday, September 3, against fellow ousted squad Greece, the tiny European country knows it already left a mark in the World Cup. 

“I think we showed how we can play against the best teams in this [World Cup],” said Simonovic. “So really happy, really proud of my team, and we focus on the next game.” –

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Jasmine W. Payo

Jasmine joined Rappler as its sports editor in 2018 after over a decade of working as a sportswriter for a national broadsheet.