Do or die: takeaways before Luka Doncic's Slovenia faces Australia

Edvinas Jablonskis
Daily Editor
2023-08-31 16:09

Luka Doncic's Slovenia will face Australia in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 game which might decide which team will go to the quarterfinal.

Credit: FIBA

The Second Round of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 in Okinawa will begin with a bang. Slovenia will meet Australia in a game that might decide which team will reach the quarterfinal in Manilla, Philippines.

For Australians, it's a do-or-die game to keep their hopes alive, while for Slovenia, it might become the only opportunity to secure its place in the quarterfinal, knowing how strong Germany looks.

If something unexpected doesn't happen and Germany will beat Georgia in the first Friday's game, Slovenia would also secure the quarterfinal berth with a win.

Luka Doncic and company would need to beat Germany in case of a loss, which is easier said than done. Most likely, on top of that, the points differential would come into play to decide which teams would go through.

Watch this and all the other FIBA World Cup matches on Courtside 1891 (with blackouts in select countries).

The Luka Doncic effect

Obviously, just like throughout the entire FIBA World Cup, all eyes will be on the Slovenian superstar Luka Doncic.

Throughout the first three games, Doncic averages 30.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 3.0 steals, and 32.3 EFF, leading the competition in scoring and efficiency.

The 24-year-old had a cold night against Cape Verde, scoring 19 points on 5 of 17 shooting from the field. Regardless, it was probably the best game to have a cold night for Luka.

And there's no doubt the Slovenian superstar will step up when it will be needed the most. Doncic rose to the occasion numerous times for the Mavericks and Slovenia, so we can expect a brilliant performance from the get-go.

"Luka always has a target on his back," head coach Aleksander Sekulic told the Slovenian media. "Every opponent wants to test him and prove himself. He takes a lot of hits in every game, so I'm a bit angry that the referees don't protect him."

"Every year, he is a better player, and he brings something new to the national team every time. He took the role of captain very seriously. This can be seen at every step. In the most difficult moments, he likes to take responsibility or the main role in both defense and offense," Sekulic added.

While there are no doubts about Doncic, one key question remains for Slovenia.

Will the role players deliver?

The upcoming game will definitely not be the one where Doncic can carry his team on his own, and Slovenia's role players will play a big part in deciding the matchup's fate.

Klemen Prepelic and Mike Tobey are the prime candidates to help Doncic, as both of them are having a solid tournament so far.

Klemen Prepelic 21:54 6/7
3.3 0.7 1.7 17 19
Mike Tobey 26:54 12/15
2 0.7 2.3 12.7 17

"It is true that we need an even team," Sekulic admitted. "Luka needs the help of his teammates. I liked the reaction of some individuals in these three games. The boys are getting in shape, so I'm looking forward to the upcoming matches."

In search of extra reserves for Slovenia, Zoran Dragic might be a good shout. So far, the 34-year-old veteran made only 3 of 12 3-pointers in the tournament. If Dragic manages to knock some extra shots, it might give a decisive edge for Slovenia.

Aleksej Nikolic also comes off a solid First Round, making 5 of 9 3-pointers, including an 11-point performance against Cape Verde, so his presence will also be important.

In short, Slovenia will need a perfect game, knowing it might be its only realistic shot at the quarterfinal.

"Now it's the real tournament," Tobey said after the game against Cape Verde. "It was always the real tournament, but now we have to give everything to compete against these two great teams."

"Australia is a great team, obviously. They have a history of winning, the last time we played against them, we lost. We know they are a great team, but we are a great team, too," Tobey added.

Credit FIBA

Australia's strengths

In comparison to Slovenia, Australia has much more depth. Nine NBA players on the roster is the fact that speaks for itself.

More importantly, the Boomers have bodies to throw on Doncic. Josh Green and Matisse Thybulle will most likely be the primary Doncic defenders, and for the Slovenian star, it will be his toughest challenge in this FIBA World Cup.

"Obviously, Luka is an amazing player. I like playing with him, but at the same time, we are both competitive players, and both of us will be ready to go and compete against each other in the next game," Green said ahead of the upcoming matchup.

"At the end of the day, it's one of those things… He's one of the best players in the world, so we will definitely have a lot of work with him. Coaches will come with the gameplan that I'm gonna follow, and I'll do what I can do," Green added.

Another advantage Australia has is its versatility and strong bodies in the frontcourt. Xavier Cooks was instrumental in the victory against Japan, finishing the game with 24 points (12/20 2PT), 16 rebounds, and 36 EFF.

Of course, the gap won't be as big against Slovenia as it was versus Japan, but Cooks, Nick Kay, and even Duop Reath's physical presence could be felt.

Speaking of depth, Joe Ingles, Dante Exum, and Cooks were coming off the bench in all three games so far, giving the Boomers a much-needed boost after a sluggish start in the first two matchups against Finland and Germany.

"I'm going out there, I'm playing my absolute a** off," Cooks told Olgun Uluc from ESPN. "I'm tired as heck. Four-minute spurts, but that's what it's about at this level. We have such a deep team that you can afford to blow your tank, get a quick sub, then get back out there."

"A glue kind of guy. Especially on this team. We have so many guys that can be the dude on their own team. For me, it's important to know my role, and I knew coming in that I wasn't gonna be the MVP Xavier Cooks; I was gonna be the connector, the energy guy, the guy who does the little things, and I'm happy to play that role," Cooks continued.

This kind of mentality is what has driven Australia for years. If the Boomers feel their momentum from the start, it gets very difficult to stop them.

The history

Australia and Slovenia have a little bit of history with each other. During the 2014 World Cup, Australia controversially lost against Angola in the group stages to avoid Team USA in the later stages of the tournament.

Because of that, it was Slovenia that faced the Americans and lost against them in the quarterfinal 76-119.

"How could I forget that? I remember every action, every basket. I live for basketball, and I really can't forget things like that," Prepelic told the local media in Japan.

Meanwhile, the most recent encounter took place in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where Australians defeated Slovenia 107-93 in the bronze medal game.

Patty Mills
Patty Mills
Credit Reuters-Scanpix

Nevertheless, players from both didn't reiterate it too much.

"It's a new year," Josh Green said. "Obviously, they'll be ready to play, and we are going to be ready, too. It's a competitive game and a competitive atmosphere. I don't expect anything less, but at the end of the day, it's in the past [the Olympics game]," Green concluded.

"We played that game really badly," Doncic answered in short, without wanting to compare these two games.

Regardless, one thing is clear – new history will be written on Friday as both teams will battle for their fate in the FIBA Basketball World Cup.


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