We have reached the semi-finals at the 2009 EuroBasket Women in Latvia. But what an amazing quartet of quarter-final battles – including two overtime games. Before breaking down the semis and talking about a record crowd, here is a look back at the quarters.
Belarus beat Slovakia 70-68 in overtime
This was the Natallia Marchanka show. The 2007 bronze medalists returned to the semi-finals and also book their spot at the 2010 World Championship and 2011 EuroBasket Women events. But coach Anatoli Buyalski has his gritty point guard to thank.
Marchanka wore a mask to protect a broken nose but it did not slow her down from driving into the lane against Slovakia with reckless abandon. And the ever-cool Anastasiya Verameyenka knocked down two free throws to ice the game with 6.7 seconds left.
Belarus did not make things easy on Buyalski, getting out-rebounded 50-35 and committing 20 turnovers. The former Soviet Republic also blew a nine-point lead with four minutes left in regulation against the pesky Slovakia.
Spain knock off Italy 61-42
Wednesday’s other quarter-final saw Spain ease past overwhelmed Italy. Giampiero Ticchi’s Italians came up with a great start, building a 12-1 lead in the first half of the first quarter.
Laura Macchi scored 16 of her 18 points in the first half before Evaristo Perez’s Spaniards woke up and turned up the defensive pressure and forced 20 Italy turnovers. All told, the Iberians allowed just 14 points in the second half in easing into the semi-finals.
One special note on the game, Spain forward Anna Montanana must slowly be getting on the nerves of the referees in Riga. The Ros Casares star has become a constant complaining machine about fouls not being called. Eventually it could come to backfire on Montanana and her teammates.
France overcome Greece 51-49
France remained undefeated but did not look impressive doing so against the upset-minded Greeks. Sandrine Gruda came up with an MVP-worthy showing with 16 points, 10 rebounds and two assists in helping France climb back from a 49-45 deficit with two minutes to play.
Celine Dumerc and Florence Lepron knocked back-to-back three-pointers to push France back ahead and Pierre Vincent’s team held off Greece in two possessions in the final minute.
Russia take down hosts Latvia 69-64 in overtime
If it was possible to top the three quarter-finals, the Russia-Latvia clash certainly did. Becky Hammon’s nine points in overtime proved too much as the American did exactly what the Russians expected of her – hitting big shots.
Hammon’s heroics had to wait until the extra session as it was Latvian Gunta Basko who shook off a poor first three quarters to knock down some tough, tough big shots to force overtime. But it was Basko’s three-pointer miss with eight seconds left in overtime which sealed Latvia’s fate.
The Russians looked much improved from their recent static offense though they dished out just six assists. More importantly, Valeriy Tikhonenko’s team turned the ball over just 11 times in 45 minutes of action – 7.8 fewer than their average going into the game.
Classification Round 5th to 8th place
Slovakia vs. Greece
The big question here is if Slovakia can stop Evanthia Maltsi. They will not, and Greece will eventually win a dog-fight – though the Slovakians will be able to use their superior height advantage.
Pick: Greece 58-54
Classification Round 5th to 8th place
Italy vs. Latvia
The hosts Latvia have only 17 hours to rebound from their heart-breaking overtime loss to Russia in the quarter-finals. Anete Jekabsone-Zogota will be called upon to go wild scoring for Latvia. And her ability to shake off the Italian defense will be key to the game.
Italy have an extra day of rest but Latvia are clearly the better side and will win a real battle in the end.
Pick: Latvia 67-60