Twenty years after a politically charged Olympic showdown, Lithuania and Russia meet with the subplot that dominated that matchup largely a historic footnote.
Wednesday's contest that evokes memories of the 1992 game between Lithuania and the Unified Team has the Lithuanians focused on reaching a sixth consecutive Olympic semifinal, and Group B Russia winner trying to make some history of its own.
With a 76-63 victory over winless Tunisia on Monday, Lithuania punched its ticket to the quarterfinal by finishing fourth in Group A at 2-3. Reaching the knockout round was a good first step, but Lithuania has a bigger goal in mind as it tries to maintain its streak of reaching every Olympic semifinal round since its team reformed in 1992.
Led by Arvydas Sabonis and Sarunas Marciulionis, the Lithuanian team defeated the Unified Team 82-78 on Aug. 8, 1992, for the bronze medal in Barcelona. The victory came just two years after Lithuania declared its independence from the Soviet Union.
"I think more politics were involved in the past," Lithuania coach Kestutis Kemzura told FIBA's official website. "Actually we are on good terms with the players and the coaching staff. We are not feeling like it's direct and personal."
Russia coach David Blatt also wants to keep the personal feelings aside as he faces his former assistant with Dynamo Saint Petersburg and Benetton Treviso.
"I'm not even going to look at Kemzura until after the game," Blatt said.
While Lithuania tries to recapture the effort from a 99-94 loss to the gold-medal favorite United States on Saturday, Russia enters the quarterfinal after posting a 4-1 record in group play. Blatt's team, though, is coming off an 82-80 loss to Australia on Monday, falling when Patty Mills hit a 3-pointer as time ran out.
"I didn't think we played particularly well," Blatt said. "I think we suffered a bit from the fact that the game was without significance (due to clinching the top spot with a 77-74 victory over Spain on Saturday). We tried, we wanted to play hard and I think we did that. We weren't really, really sharp but I think it's natural."
Russia will likely come out with a bit more urgency as it hasn't finished better than eighth in Olympic play since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Lithuania won bronze in 1996 and 2000 before taking fourth in Athens and Beijing.
The Russians' hopes of reaching the medal stand likely depend on the play of Andrei Kirilenko and the backcourt duo of Aleksey Shved and Vitaliy Fridzon.
Kirilenko is scoring a team-best 18.2 points with 6.2 rebounds, Shved has averaged 5.4 assists and Fridzon has been a fourth-quarter standout, hitting the winning 3-pointer in a 75-74 victory over Brazil on Thursday and the clinching free throws versus Spain.
"We need to come up with a good game plan because we know they have a very balanced team," said Lithuania forward Linas Kleiza, the team leader with 15.8 points and 6.2 boards per game.
These teams met in Beijing, with Lithuania winning 86-79 on Aug. 14, 2008, in group play.