Serbia will have the chance to defend their U20 European Championship Men title after knocking off co-hosts Italy 77-62 thanks to a combined 40 points from Nikola Dragovic and Milos Teodosic.
Milenko Tepic added 11 points and Vladimir Stimac had 12 rebounds as Serbia dominated the first half and managed the game well after the break to head into Sunday's final against undefeated Spain.
|Nikola Dragovic was on fire in the semi-final, scoring 21 points
"It means a lot, but it's not what we wanted to do. We want the title. It's been hard all tournament. But we show on the court that we are one," said Stimac.
"I'm so excited to go to the final, that was our priority. But Spain are good at all positions and it will be very tough."
The co-hosts Italy, who were looking for their first U20 crown since 1992, will face Russia in Sunday's bronze medal match as Pietro Aradori's 14 points and 10 each from Davide Bruttini and Daniel Hackett were not enough.
In front of a partizan Gorizia crowd, Serbia struggled early with turnovers with Italy building an 8-2 lead midway through first quarter.
Lorenzo D'Ercole A and Luigi Da Tome made three-pointers to give Pino Sacripanti's team a 14-10 lead with 2:28 left in the first. But the reigning champs buckled down defensively and didn't allow Italy to get into any rhythm.
Serbia went on a 27-5 run during a stretch of 10:26 spanning the first and second quarters, holding Italy to 2-of-15 shooting and forcing four turnovers in building a 37-19 lead.
Marco Ammannato scored a break-away layup and Hackett and Aradori drained back-to-back three-pointers to cut the deficit to 38-28 with 15 seconds to play in the second quarter.
But Dragovic knocked down a three-pointer with three seconds remaining to send Serbia into the locker-rooms ahead 41-28.
The Serbian offense sputtered in the third quarter, with the Italians urged on by the home fans. They could only muster a jumper and a three-pointer by Dragovic and a free throw by Stefan Nikolic, missing nine of 11 shots and turning the ball over nine times.
Italy weren't exactly lighting up the net, managing just 13 points in the third, cutting the deficit down to five points on Alberto Chiumenti's free throw for 46-41.
Teodosic stepped up to start the fourth, driving to the lane for an uncontested lay-up and a three-pointer. And Italy suddenly found themselves back down 54-41 after Stimac's tip-in with 8:07 to play.
A fall-away jumper and two foul shots by Dragovic pushed the lead to 60-43 with five minutes remaining.
The Italians tried to mount a comeback and were helped by some careless Serbia ball-handling and poor free throw shooting. Davide Bruttini scored two baskets and Alessandro Piazza also hit two shots to close to within 62-53.
But Hackett was given a foul and an unsportsmanlike technical, sending Teodosic to the line for four free throws, all of which he made for a 68-55 advantage with 1:33 to go.
After the game, Italian coach Sacripanti could only congratulate the reigning champions.
"Sure Serbia played a better game. They moved the basketball, made good decisions. We couldn't score in important times and sometimes we were nervous," said the coach.
"I tried everything. I tried to play with five small guys to press the ball and sometimes it worked. But eventually they broke the game. Now we take all our energy we have to play for a medal."