|Alexandra Marchenkova chipped in 13 points and 8 rebounds in a balanced Russia attack to clinch the title|
by Björn-Lars Blank
Russia are the newly crowned title-winners of the U16 European Championship Women. In the final in Kozani they outclassed Croatia 71-53 to win it all.
It had been their team play that earned them the gold medals. Despite losing the final, Croatia truly played an outstanding tournament.
Russia just had the perfect tournament and the perfect final. They demonstrated good team play and never trailed in the gold medal game. After the closing ceremony Head coach Elena Shulzhenko was more than just happy. "I haven't yet understood this happened. I am so happy for the girls. This is why we worked all summer long" she said.
Shulzhenko added "This win is important for Russia since it's been a while since we won a prize at this age category. Now that we have won here in Greece, we have fallen in love with this country."
From the tip-off on Russia was in control. An 8-0 start forced Croatia to a quick timeout. It took the Croatians a moment to find their rhythm. Halfway through the first quarter they finally did and closed the gap to three points. Russia's accurate three point shooting caused big troubles for Croatia however.
Netting in triple after triple, the Russians led 30-17 at the start of the second period. They looked very focused and determined to take their comfortable lead into halftime. With 38-28 it still was in double digits.
Croatia started to heat up with their long range shots in the third period. Two three-pointers in a short time helped to reduce the deficit to five points. They could not keep up the good shooting though. Russia on the other side constantly found ways to score.
Up by 12 points at the start of the fourth quarter (56-44), the Russians were only ten minutes away from winning gold. Their balanced offense had been too much for Croatia down the stretch.
The lead increased to twenty points with just two minutes left. By then, the game was essentially over and Russia could start to celebrate their triumph.
Anna Shchetina led the new champion with 15 points. She also collected 8 rebounds and blocked 3 shots. For Croatia, Andrijana Cvitkovic had a game high 17 points and 9 rebounds.
Silver medal winners Croatia played a terrific tournament. Last year they still played at the Division B level, now they are second best country in European U16 Women's basketball.