After picking all four quarter-finals correct I went 1-3 in Friday’s action – including missing both semi-finals, neither of which lived up to their billing. And now defending champions Russia take on France for the 2009 EuroBasket Women crown.
I’m not going to break down in detail the first two games from Friday – the Classification for the fifth place game and a spot in the 2010 World Championship Women and the 2011 EuroBasket Women.
But I will say Greece showed a lot of heart yet again in holding their fourth straight opponent to under 60 points in a 64-59 win over Slovakia with Evanthia Maltsi and Dimitra Kalentzou combining for 44 points.
Italy will challenge for the 2010 and 2011 spots after coming back from a 22-point deficit to the exhausted hosts Latvia, who had their coach Ainars Zvirgzdins announce after the game that he would be stepping down after the tourament. After opening the tournament with four wins, Latvia have crashed to four straight losses.
In the first semi-final, France and Belarus held tight for a half before the French used their long-range shooting to pull away. It also didn’t help Belarus that their shooting guards did not play very well. The 2007 bronze medalists Belarus are just beaten up physically and are running on fumes and final hurting muscle tissue at this point.
Meeting up with France in Saturday’s final will be defending champions Russia, who pulled away from Spain in a re-match of the 2007 final. Becky Hammon scored 18 of her 28 points in the fourth quarter while Maria Stepanova finally showed why she is considered one of the best players in the world with 19 points and 16 rebounds.
Spain could not hit their decent looks, missing a number of lay-ups – though they were taken with the towering Stepanova and Irina Osipova lurking to block them.
Seventh Place Game
Latvia vs. Slovakia
This is only about pride and finishing the tournament with a win. Latvia – 78-69 losers to Slovakia in the Qualification Round – hope also to send their coach Ainars Zvirgzdins off with a victory.
Pick: Latvia 68-64
Fifth Place Game
Italy vs. Greece
This will be an intense defensive battle which will end up probably being a shoot-out between Evanthia Maltsi and Laura Macchi. Whichever team can get some help to their big scorer should win this one – and qualify for the 2010 Worlds and 2011 EuroBasket Women.
Pick: Greece 54-48
Bronze Medal Game
Spain vs. Belarus
This is a showdown of two battle-worn teams who will be happy when this one is over. Recognition of third place in the history books is at stake. Spain are the much deeper team, Belarus the bigger side.
Pick: Spain 72-63
Gold Medal Game
Russia vs. France
This is for all the glory. Russia are defending champions and looking to capture their third title in the past four EuroBasket Women events. France hope to add the 2009 crown to the 2001 championship.
France handed Russia their only loss of the tournament – 72-66 in the Qualification Round. Pierre Vincent’s team committed just nine turnovers while Russia lost the ball 20 times. The French will need a similar performance to beat Valeriy Tikhonenko’s mighty Russians.
Maria Stepanova has picked up her game with 16 points and 12 rebounds in the quarters and 19 points and 16 rebounds in the semis. France’s ability to stop her in the inside will be the key along with slowing down Becky Hammon, who is just starting to heat up.
Pick: Russia 68-60
And here is my All-Tournament Team:
Evanthia Maltsi – Greece
Anete Jekabsone-Zogota – Latvia
Sandrine Gruda – France
Yelena Leuchanka – Belarus
Maria Stepanova – Russia
Here are five others I cannot complain about them being on the team:
Celine Dumerc – France
Svetlana Abrosimova – Russia
Anna Montanana – Spain
Laura Macchi – Italy
Anastasiya Verameyenka – Belarus