|24 July 2010|
No team at the 2010 U20 European Championship for Women has observers as baffled than Russia, who have experienced a dizzying array of highs and lows en route to their semi-final showdown with France.
Russia held Latvia scoreless for an entire quarter but needed overtime to win before losing back-to-back against Sweden and the Netherlands.
The Russians then knocked off a French team missing two stars before blowing out Serbia in the quarter-finals. Now Russia are looking for two more highs to win their fifth U20 women gold.
"I guess it's been a Russian thing," said Russia forward Anastasia Logunova about the team's highs and lows in Latvia.
"We have been up and down, and the only thing we can try to do is prepare for ourselves mentally."
In likely the most thrilling game of the tournament, Russia did not allow a single point to hosts Latvia in the second quarter of their preliminary round. But coach Dmitry Donskov's team blew a 22-point lead in the final 15 minutes of regulation before prevailing in overtime.
"Coach just gave us a good defensive plan and we tried to follow what he told us to do. And it worked out," said Logunova.
But already qualified for the qualifying round, Russia then lost to Sweden before falling to the Netherlands in the first second round game.
"The next two games we just were not mentally ready," admitted Logunova, who is the team's third-leading scorer (12.0 ppg) and tops Russia in rebounds (5.6 rpg) and assists (3.4 agp).
"Every team makes mistakes. But let's make them our last mistakes on our way to the title."
The Dynamo Moscow player said one of Russia's problems thus far in the tournament has been consistently performing in the second and third quarters.
But the Russians were superb in that phase in the quarter-finals against Serbia, going on 10-0 and 15-3 runs in the second period and a 12-1 spurt early in the third to finish off the Serbs.
"Our problem has always been the second and third quarter, and we knew about it before the game. So we tried to organize ourselves and prepare ourselves for those quarters," said Logunova.
"We try to play a team game a lot and make sure everything is organized."
Russia coach Donskov uses predominantly a seven-player rotation and three players are averaging 12 points or more. And five Russians in total have scored in double digits in at least two games in Latvia.
In addition, Anastasia Loginova had a double-double versus Poland and scored seven or more in two other games. And Yana Panevina had 10 points against Ukraine in the opening game and then eight points against France.
The win over France in the final qualifying round came as two of France's leading players - Diandra Tchatchouang and Medelome Medenou - did not play in the second half due to ankle injuries.
Tchatchouang will not be available against Russia in Saturday's semi-finals and the French rallied together to beat Lithuania in the quarters for their injured star.
Logunova said the Russians want to forget about their win over France.
"We cannot look at it. It's not important. We're going to try not to look at it. It's really all about us trying to get ready for each and every game."
Logunova and the Russians just hope there are no more low points left in their up-and-down tournament.