Russia advanced to the final of the U20 European Championship for Women with a thrilling 49-47 victory over Serbia in the first semi-final.
Natalia Zhedik and Olga Petrova each made a foul shot in the final 15 seconds and Serbian star Sonja Petrovic, who struggled throughout, missed a lay-up attempt to even the game with six seconds left.
|The Serbia players were in tears after the semi-final|
Natalia Vieru scored 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds for the Russians, who won gold in 2000, 2004 and 2006. Yulia Lukina added eight points and Zhedik had seven.
The key to the game was a stifling Russian defense which held Serbia to 1-of-17 shooting and just three points in the first quarter. Jelena Milovanovic paced Serbia with 16 points while Petrovic was held to just nine points.
"Of course we are thrilled to be in the final. That is why we are here. Our goal was to really shut down their shooters," said Russian assistant coach Dmitry Donskov. "And we really played well off our defense. To allow Serbia to score just three points in a quarter is very strong."
Both teams started nervous and it took more than two minutes for Vieru to score the first points of the game from the foul line. Jovica Antonic's Serbs missed their first eight shots and did not get on the scoring board until Milovanovic's three-pointer with 4:31 left in the first quarter. Russia's defence was stellar as they led 10-3 after one period.
Both sides settled down in the second period. Serbia relied on the outside shot as Petrovic was unable to find any rhythm offensively. And the Russians moved the ball well and were able to get a mix of players involved on offense in leading 18-12.
Serbia's main weapon was Milovanovic, who had 10 points by half-time. But Dragana Gobeljic knocked down a three-ball and a second jumper made it 18-17. Petrovic was held scoreless in the first half, which ended with Russia leading 22-18.
Russia continued their intense defense and forced three Serb turnovers to start the second half and Vieru's foul shot pushed the lead to 25-18. Petrovic's first basket of the game was a three-pointer with 7:31 left in the third, pulling Serbia within 25-23. Daria Ezhova and Iva Roglic swapped triples and a Milovanovic jumper left Russia ahead just 30-29 going into the fourth.
Miljkovic's lay-up to start the fourth gave Serbia the lead and it was 33-31 after two Roglic foul shots. Vieru's foul shots put Russia back ahead 38-37 before Serbia put together their best run of the game. Roglic scored an inside basket and Milovanovic's converted a three-point play for a 42-38 Serbia lead with less than four minutes to play.
But Zhedik answered right back with a three-pointer to slay the Serbian spirits. Petrovic and Milovanovic both missed jumpers and Vieru made two foul shots to put Russia back ahead 43-42. Baskets by Irina Romanova and Vieru gave Russia a 47-42 advantage with 1:20 to play.
Miljkovic's lay-up cut the deficit to 47-46 with 16 seconds left and then Zhedik made just one of two for Russia, leaving Petrovic a driving lay-up which rimmed out.
Petrova made just one free throw and then Milovanovic was awarded just two free throws with 0.7 seconds to play and made one and missed the second on purpose but Serbia could not get a shot off.