Sorry about the delay in the second entry from Latvia. The Preliminary Round has ended and all the teams, media and organizers have moved from Valmiera and Liepaja to the Latvian capital. And a look back at the first round is probably the best way to start this entry.
We’re going to stick our focus to the Groups C and D since those are the games we saw. But the other teams will come in future posts.
First off, defending champions Russia and France proved to be the crème of the crop in Valmiera – especially Russia.
Valeriy Tikhonenko’s team has still struggled a bit from an offensive standpoint. Against Lithuania, Russia would have had even more problems if Olga Arteshina had not had two strong stretches in which she scored 14 points in a total span of six minutes.
But the Russians have been playing tremendous defense and American playmaker Becky Hammon will be arriving in a couple of days, which will give them a top class floor general and another scorer from the backcourt.
One issue could be how quick Hammon gets used to the system. It’s not yet clear exactly when she will play for the first time. Much better would be at least one game in the Qualifying Round before the quarter-finals.
France meanwhile appear to have all the weapons to make a running for the medals. With Sandrine Gruda and Celine Dumerc running the show, Pierre Vincent’s French seem poised to return to the podium for the first time since 2001 when they won the event.
One area of concern is that France lack a real outside shooting threat. And that could be crucially missing if they fall behind and need some big triples to get back into games.
But Gruda has been outstanding thus far, averaging 15.3 points and 7 rebounds over three games. Oh, and she has turned the ball over just one time in 73 minutes.
The first round in Valmiera saw Serbia absolutely crash out of the tournament, losing their three games by an average of 22 points. They basically played one good quarter in Latvia – the second against Turkey – and deserve to be heading home, even though they have some excellent young talent.
The 2007 bronze medalists Belarus have disappointed thus far and only advanced because of a five-point win over Israel. Coach Anatoli Buyalski’s team has not gotten consistent point guard play as Natallia Marchanka has shot just 3 of 18 from the field and committed 17 turnovers to 11 assists in three games. Plus defensive specialist Sviatlana Volnaya has played just 14 minutes and scored two points on three shots.
Unless Marchanka came find her form – and Volnaya her fitness and confidence – then the 2007 bronze medalists will be heading home disappointed, and having disappointed their fans.
Lithuania coach Rutenis Paulauskas meanwhile will be hoping that his 20-year-old center Gintare Petronyte has more of her highs and fewer of her lows. The TEO Vilnius center had 20 points and 8 rebounds in the first game against Serbia and 17 points and nine rebounds against Russia. But Petronyte crashed to just 1 point and five rebounds in 12 minutes against Turkey.
Petronyte is an excellent talent and if she can avoid another game like the Turkey contest the Lithuanians will be in every game. And Paulauskas’s team could contend come back from an 0-2 start in the Qualifying Round to reach the quarters.
One Lithuanian who will have to finally snap out of her slump is Ausra Bimbaite. Paulauskas gave her an average of 31 minutes in the first two games and she responded by going 2 of 17 from the field, including 0 of 13 in the second game. She played just 4 minutes against Russia, and Olga Arteshina burned her for two important baskets in that time.
Well, it’s time to head off to the games – today (Thursday) there are games from the Groups A and B so we will have a look at them for the first time.