It all came so easy for Ivica Zubac against Great Britain, despite his team mates struggling against the underdogs in the first half, as the LA Clippers big man demonstrated why Croatia’s hopes ride and die with him at EuroBasket 2022
Zubac waited his turn patiently. Bojan Bogdanovic scored, so too Dario Saric, and Mario Hezonja, as he watched from the bench. It wasn’t his time yet. A surprisingly close first quarter for his team mates ended with his introduction and a sign that things were about to change significantly.
Zubac’s talent is well-known by now but to see him walk through a defence like it was made of rice paper was like watching someone on a different level to the nine other men around him. Zubac would simply casually stroll into the paint, not even look at Gabe Olaseni, and either softly just lay-up over him or dunk as though there was no obstacle. The opposition before him had forced his team mates to step up to keep pace with their aggressive style but not Zubac, no he closed the first with a hint that this game was going to be over as a contest in short order.
Sure enough, as he toyed with Great Britain on the inside, scoring at his ease, Zubac made space for the likes of Saric to take advantage. Sometimes the ease overtook him, an outlet pass aimed at Ivan Ramljak almost ended up in the stands but these was a symptom of his control of proceedings. Olaseni, to his credit, raised the physicality to try and contain the big man, battering from underneath to press him into extending himself more. Still, when Zubac sat the lead had grown to a comfortable one. As soon as he did, it felt like they’d need to call on him again as GB’s energetic line-up found room to run again.
With his team only 6 points up at the break, the glass zeal was broken and Zubac hit the floor again to start the second. Inside pass from Bojan, a quick duck move by Zubac to draw the and-one foul from Carl Wheatle, and business had picked up. Another score to push the lead to 11 and the British needed to call timeout.
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Ovie Soko made the mistake of trying to take on Zubac at the other end and got blocked out of it for his troubles with Croatia scoring a three on the subsequent fast break. There was everything you’d want to see from Zubac on display for the most part. Ludicrously efficient shot selection, intelligent movement on defence, drawing fouls with ease, and control of wherever he was. There were some turnovers and the passing could have been crisper at times but this feels like nitpicking. When Zubac was on the floor, Great Britain simply couldn’t live with a Croatia team they were otherwise in a good fight with.
It carried over to his team mates as they beat the belief out of Great Britain on the back of Zubac’s dominance. By the end of the third that 6 point advantage had grown to 32. This was masterful stuff from the Clippers man that removed any doubt about Croatia’s place at the top table of the group. He finished the outing with 15 points on 6 of 6 shooting, 6 rebounds, and 1 block. On to the next one.