Sofia, Bulgaria – We checked into the capital of Bulgaria – Sofia for the U16 FIBA European Challengers which will be held from Monday until Saturday this week. Two venues in the city will host three groups. The first group is consisted of Germany, Croatia, Latvia, Poland and Bulgaria. They will play in a round-robin format. Originally Spain was the sixth team in the group, but due to complications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic the team withdraw from the event. The other seven teams Ukraine, Switzerland, Portugal, Georgia, Slovakia, Hungary and Cyprus are set across two groups – one of three and one of four – which will be followed by the semi-finals and classification games.
The program was opened by a game played at the St. George School Gym between the teams of Hungary and Cyprus. Hungary won 63-39, pulling away in the second and third quarter, limiting its opponent to single-digits in those two quarters – a total of seven points. Patrick Hogye (2005), a 6-foot-5 shooting guard led the winners in scoring with 13 points, shooting 5-of-9 from the field. Petros Tsouloupas (2005), a 6-1 guard scored eight points for Cyprus in a losing effort.
The first game from the schedule in the other sports hall – Triaditsa, offered us a low-scoring competition between Germany and Latvia, which the Germans won 59-45 thanks to a strong showing in the fourth quarter (20-6). Both teams didn’t shoot the ball well from long range – Latvia hit only 6-of-35 shots from that distance, while Germany shot a significantly smaller number of 3-pointers – 17 and made only two of them. Martin Kalu (2005), a 6-foot-5 athletic guard was the leading scorer for Germany with a game-high 20 points, shooting 8-of-15 from the field. Kalu, a three-level scorer demonstrated his hops with two flashy dunks. His teammate Joshua Bonga (2005), a 6-3 point guard and younger brother of NBA player Isaac Bonga, was very active on both ends of the floor, finishing with nine points, eight rebounds and three assists, despite his bad shooting night – 3-of-12 from the field. For Latvia 6-foot-2 guard Roberts Blums (2005) scored 17 points, shooting 5-of-11 from deep.
In the second game for the day played at St. George School gym, Portugal dominated Ukraine – 75-54. Portugal was led by 2006-born guard Nathan Noronha and 6-foot-9 Ruben Prey (2005) who scored 17 and 14, respectively. The lengthy and very mobile big guy Prey added an impressive 17 rebounds and three assists. For Ukraine Illia Lishchyna recorded 12 points and grabbed seven boards in a losing effort.
Poland opened its campaign in Sofia with an important win against Croatia – 87-71. Despite being up in 37 minutes of the game, the win didn’t come as easy as the result suggests, as Poland led only by two after three quarters of play. However, Poland won the fourth quarter by a 25-11 margin to get the victory. The committed turnovers seemed to be the deciding metric in this game. Croatia turned the ball over 24 times, against Poland’s 11.. Poland exploited those mistakes, with a 25-8 advantage on points from turnovers. Polish guard Pavel Sowinski (2005) and small forward Jan Nowicki (2005) led the winners in scoring both with 15 points, adding six and four boards, respectively. Their teammate Szymon Nowicki (2005), a 6-foot-7 forward was very active on both ends of the court, providing length and competitiveness. Nowicki finished with 12 points and seven boards. Croatian guard David Pavin (2005) had a game-high 28 points, shooting 11-of-18 from the field, including 6-of-8 on threes. Pavin added seven boards, four assists, but also five turnovers, showing he might not be at his best being the playmaker of this team. His teammate Zvonimir Kujundzic (2005) posted 19 points and nine rebounds.
In the final game of the program Slovakia came back to win a nail-biter against Georgia – 77-76. Robert Hudec (2005), a 6-3 shooting guard, scored a game-high 19 points, shooting 8-of-14 from the field to help Slovakia win. Luka Lomtadze (2005), a 6-5 forward, led Georgia in scoring, finishing with 18 points and eight boards, on 8-of-12 shooting.
In tomorrow’s games Switzerland will play its game against Portugal. At Triaditsa Sports Hall, Croatia and Latvia will face each other, looking to get their first win at the tournament, while later Cyprus and Georgia will compete at St. George School Gym to see which team will get its first victory. In the final game for the day at Triaditsa Sports Hall, Bulgaria will open its performance competing against Germany, while at St. George School Gym we will watch a battle of two unbeaten teams – Slovakia and Hungary.