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FIBA U19 World Cup Opening Day: Petrusev, Ayayi Dominate

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Ballo out, Arlauskas struggles from field

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The 2019 U19 FIBA World Cup kicked off early Saturday morning from Greece. The reigning champions, Canada, are looking to defend their crown, while the United States is looking to take back the thrown they owned in 2013 and 2015. Meanwhile, Serbia, Lithuania and France are all looking to play spoiler.

Five Gonzaga players tipped off day one, along with 2020 priority target Jalen Suggs. Returners Joel Ayayi and Filip Petrusev, who both shined last summer in the U18 Euros, look to do the same this summer. Oumar Ballo looks to continue his incredible run through international competition at a very young age, and Martynas Arlauskas is trying to find his footing after being injured for most of the last 12 months. 2020 commit Julian Strawther is representing Puerto Rico in honor of his late mother. Here’s a recap of the first day of action.

Joel Ayayi: 26 points (11-17 FG, 2-7 FT), 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 steals, 4 turnovers

Ayayi was part of the All-Star Five last summer in the U18 Euros after averaging 15.7 points. France took home a third place finish after losing to Petrusev and Serbia in the semi-finals. Those two teams will face off on Tuesday in a much anticipated rematch. As for Saturday, France started off this tournament with a 91-68 win over Strawther and Puerto Rico. Ayayi had 13 points in the second quarter and was a +17 at halftime when France led by seven.

Next Game: June 30 vs China 3:15 am pacific

Filip Petrusev: 23 points (9-11 FG, 5-6 FT), 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, 1 turnover

Serbia won the U18 Euros last year and competed until the final buzzer with the United States in a friendly just before this tournament tipped off. They look on their way to medal contention after a 106-57 drubbing over China. Petrusev used his superior size to dominate inside and beat China’s zone with ease. He had 17 points at halftime and didn’t play the fourth quarter after Serbia built a 40 point lead. Serbia is really good.

Next Game: June 30 vs Puerto Rico 5:30 am pacific

Martynas Arlauskas: 4 points (2-7 FG), 5 rebounds, 4 steals

Arlauskas enters the World Cup looking to prove that he’s once again healthy and ready to contribute at a high level. He’s been out for most of the last 12 months with injuries, but played in all their exhibitions leading up to the World Cup. He’s never been known as much of a scorer, but rather a do-it-all little things type player. He struggled from the field on Saturday, but racked up rebounds and steals in his 14 minutes of action as Lithuania beat Senegal 76-52.

Next Game: June 30 vs USA - 7:45 am pacific

Oumar Ballo: did not play

Mali is looking to become the best African finisher in U19 World Cup history. They are on their way to becoming the best Mali team to ever participate. In their only two pervious trips, they finished 15th and 16th. This year, they beat Latvia in their opening game, 93-79, for just their second win ever. Strangely, Ballo did not play and there was also no sign of him on the bench. He is listed on the roster and was expected to be part of the rotation, so his absence is odd. After the game, their coach said this: “We were missing two guys, but at the end of the day, nobody cares. Even if we only had five guys, we would still play hard.”

Next Game: June 30 vs Canada 3:45 am pacific

Julian Strawther: 9 points (3-10 FG), 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 3 turnovers

After missing out on a Team USA roster spot last summer, Strawther was invited to play for his mother’s country of Puerto Rico this summer. Cordero-Strawther and Puerto Rico had the unenviable task of taking on France, a possible medal team, in their opening game. They held their own for awhile, leading for most of the first 15 minutes, before France pulled away in the second half, 91-68. Strawther played the second most minutes on the team, but struggled a bit from the field. It doesn’t get any easier for the 2020 commit as he takes on Petrusev and Serbia tomorrow.

Next Game: June 30 vs Serbia 5:30 am pacific

Jalen Suggs: 4 points (1-4 FG), 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers

Gonzaga’s main 2020 target started at guard for the United States in his third summer representing his country. The Americans are favored to win the tournament, but have several formidable challengers along the way. New Zealand is not one of them. USA blew by them with ease in the opening round, 111-71. Suggs started and played 13 minutes. Up next is a date with Arlauskas and Lithuania, one of the better, longer teams in the tournament.

Next Game: June 30 vs Lithuania - 7:45 am pacific