Yesterday was a big day for Chicago Bulls center Nikola Vucevic, as he had the opportunity to continue his dominant streak and go undefeated in the group stages of the 2023 FIBA World Cup and put Montenegro in the international spotlight for the first time in the nation’s history. All they had to do was beat Lithuania, and they were golden…
… is probably what they told themselves, before being handed a decisive 71-91 defeat by the more experienced Lithuanians.
Piling on 19 points and 4 rebounds, Vucevic was the only consistent offensive contributor against Lithuania. Although he shot a poor 4-for-13 from the field, Vooch got to the line for 11 free throws and didn’t miss a single one. He outplayed his NBA counterpart Jonas Valanciunas comparatively, but I was surprised to see Vooch’s rebounding get minimized so thoroughly.
Montenegro’s next-highest scorers were Marko Simonovic and Kendrick Perry with 13, while no other players on the roster recorded double digits in points. Lithuania employed an extremely balanced and diverse attack on offense, with all but one of the eight players who logged 12 or more minutes scoring 8 points or more.
Vucevic wasn’t the only Bulls player to take a rough loss in the last game of the World Cup’s group stages, however, as Carlik Jones also suffered a 115-82 defeat to Serbia and will now be eliminated from the tournament outright. Carlik played extremely well and propelled South Sudan to their first-ever World Cup victory, but will now be forced to join us by watching the action unfold in the winner’s bracket rather than participating in it.
Nikola Vucevic has represented the Bulls well in the FIBA World Cup, but his greatest challenge still awaits him.
Following this defeat, Vucevic has secured second place in Group D and has advanced to the next round. This would normally be cause for celebration, if not for the fact Montenegro is now destined for a matchup with the winners of Group C — Team USA.
If Montenegro won this game, they would have instead gotten to play the Group C second-place finisher, which will be decided in a head-to-head matchup between Greece (without Giannis Antetokounmpo) and New Zealand later today. Regardless of who comes out on top in that matchup, either option would have been far more preferable over a meeting with the most dangerous team in the tournament.
Team USA has been every bit as good as advertised thus far, playing the part of the unstoppable juggernaut they were made out to be. Led by Anthony Edwards and a whole slew of rising young NBA stars, the USA has steamrolled New Zealand, Greece, and Jordan with a total margin victory of 103 points. To put it simply, Vucevic’s odds are not looking great.
If by some miracle he did manage to pull off the upset, however, it would go down as one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. For that reason alone, I’ll certainly be tuning in to the game on Friday, September 1. You watch all games on ESPN+ or on FIBA’s official World Cup page. Tip-off time is still to be determined, but since the event is being hosted in Manila, expect it to be an early one.