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Friday September 20, 2013 MYT 3:02:50 AM
Friday September 20, 2013 MYT 3:03:28 AM
LJUBLJANA (Reuters) - Croatia reached the semi-finals of a major tournament for the first time in 18 years after guard Krunoslav Simon scored 23 points to inspire an 84-72 win over Ukraine in the European Championship on Thursday.
The Croatians, who finished third in the 1995 edition in Greece, next play 2003 winners Lithuania or Italy who lock horns later in the day.
"We have bounced back into the top echelons of European basketball in grand style and we don't want to stop here," said coach Jasmin Repesa.
"The semi-final is an opportunity to get the just rewards for our hard work."
Holders Spain, aiming for a third successive European title, meet 2011 runners-up France in the semi-finals on Friday.
Led by American-born playmaker Eugene Jeter, the younger brother of women's 100 metres world champion Carmelita Jeter, the Ukrainian underdogs moved into an early 12-5 lead thanks to a series of fast breaks in the Stozice Arena.
The Croatians quickly regained their composure and having drawn level at the end of the first quarter, they conjured a 19-1 run in the second period which turned a three-point deficit into a 44-29 lead.
Ukraine, who will host the 2015 tournament, fought well and reduced the deficit to single digits several times but ultimately had no answer to the versatile Simon who nailed five three-pointers from eight attempts to go with three assists and two rebounds.
Forward Bojan Bogdanovic added 14 points for the Croatians while Jeter led Ukraine with 19 points, six assists and as many rebounds.
"We were the better team and turned the match our way before halftime which should mean we have plenty left in the tank for the semi-finals," captain Roko Leni Ukic told state television HRT.
"We were focused, kept turnovers and missed a minimum of free throws and we'll be ready for whoever comes our way."
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic in Belgrade; editing by Tony Jimenez)
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