Federico Mussini and the Italians were not playing for a medal on Saturday, but Yankuba Sima and Spain were looking to advance to Sunday's 2016 U20 FIBA European Championship final.
Italy kicked off the day with an impressive payback performance against Czech Republic (who beat them earlier in the tournament), winning 81-66 in the consolation bracket. The Italians finished with four players in double figures, and they forced Czech Republic's guards into consistent turnovers with their extended pressure defense.
Mussini's squad will play Latvia in their final game of the tournament on Sunday morning at 7 a.m. ET.
Meanwhile, Spain advanced to the final thanks to a 61-52 victory over Germany. Francisco Alonso scored 22 points for Spain, while Sima had an impressive fourth quarter.
Spain will face off on Sunday (2 p.m. ET) against the winner of the other semifinal between Turkey and Lithuania.
Finding his way at the free throw stripe
In Italy's first match-up against Czech Republic, Mussini caught fire in the fourth quarter, hitting all four of his threes to score 12 of his 16 points in the final period. Mussini's squad lost that match-up, putting them beyond the eight ball in group play.
This time around, Mussini scored 10 points on 2-of-7 shooting, dished out two assists, had two steals and committed three turnovers in 24 minutes of action against Czech Republic.
The point guard didn't shoot the ball with high efficiency and made slow decisions in pick-and-roll situations, but he was in attack mode for the first time in the entire tournament. Mussini was penetrating the defense, finding the open man on the perimeter and sometimes even taking the ball all the way to the rim to draw a foul. He shot eight free throws in the game (making six of them) and both of his made field goals came in the painted area.
While he only finished with two assists, the highlight of Mussini's day was a beautiful transition alley-oop pass to Leonardo Tote mid-way through the 3rd quarter that extended Italy's lead to nine points.
Mussini's ability to corral long rebounds was also on display, as he grabbed six total boards. The Italian is not much of a leaper (that is obvious every time he steps on the court) and sometimes fails to get into his stance defensively, but he never lacks the effort in 50-50 ball situations and will compete for long rebounds at the best of his ability.
Sima makes presence felt with two big time plays
For the second straight game, Sima was very ineffective on the offensive end of the floor (he finished with six points on 2-of-5 shooting in 21 minutes). With Alonso having another dominate performance, Sima was left to screen, rebound and make plays on defense.
And he did just that, flexing his prowess on that end of the court at the most critical time.
In the fourth quarter, Sima anchored Spain's defense. He block one shot at the rim, bodied up the opposing bigs in Spain's zone, and contested numerous shots that resulted in misses from Germany. Sima did foul out for the second time in the tournament, but his fifth foul was picked up when the game was all but over, and came after one of the biggest plays of the game.
In fact, Sima arguably contributed to the two most crucial plays on Saturday. The first came off a Germany missed shot with 3:30 remaining. Sima grabbed a physical defensive rebound over two Germans and a teammate, giving Spain possession to extend their lead.
Then with 2:04 remaining, Sima had a put back finish over one defender that resulted in an eruption from the bench and eight point Spain lead. The game never got closer from that point on, as Marc Garcia and Alonso closed out the game with Sima on the bench.
As shown last year during the college season, Sima has an offensive game when given opportunities on the block. If he can continue to learn to defend vertically consistently, have trust in his left hand and add a mid-range jumper, he could be a very well rounded player in the years to come.