|Cold-blooded executioner with an angel face: Rima Valentiene burried a huge three-pointer at the buzzer to give VICI Aistes a famous win over title contenders Ros Casares|
The EuroLeague Women has the best players in the world and some of them are in the squad of Spanish giants Ros Casares.
But an underdog side with players that never quit and play with heart from start to finish always has a chance and so it proved on Wednesday night in Kaunas as VICI Aistes shocked Ros, 73-72, with a buzzer-beating three-pointer from Rima Valentiene.
Silvia Dominguez had just knifed her way into the lane and scored with a little more than two seconds remaining to put the visitors on top, 72-70, and seemingly on the way to victory.
But VICI Aistes coach Mantas Sernius called a timeout, remained calm and drew up the simplest of plays that saw Tatsiana Likhtarovich give an inbounds pass to Valentiene near the three-point line.
Despite being fronted by Kata Honti, and having Jana Veselá behind her and Dominguez to her right, the veteran playmaker managed to find enough space to launch the game-winning shot.
Good fortune was on their side because the ball hit off the glass and went in.
The VICI Aistes players poured onto the court and celebrated with Valentiene, lifting the 33-year-old above their heads as if they'd won the title.
VICI Aistes, who shocked Sparta&K Moscow Region, eventual champions Perfumerias Avenida and Galatasaray on their own floor last season, now have another giant-killing on the books.
The result has left Ros with a 7-2 record in Group A and VICI Aistes at 2-7.
On top 39-30 at half-time, VICI Aistes weren't able to prevent Natalia Hejkova's team from battling back and opening their biggest advantage at 70-64 after a Veselá jumper in the paint with 1:50 to play.
At the other end, though, Courtnay Pilypaitis drove in and was fouled by Vesela and made one of two free-throws.
Then 31-year-old Vita Kuktiene next took responsibility in a big way for VICI Aistes, hitting a difficult three-pointer from the left corner to cut the gap to two.
Australian superstar Lauren Jackson had a shot she would normally make under the basket but missed and Kuktiene tied the game by banking in a lay-up on a difficult drive with 30 seconds to play.
Hejkova called timeout and Honti ended up with a chance to hit a go-ahead lay-up but missed, however, Ros center Isabelle Yacoubou kept the ball alive and when it went out of bounds, the referees gave possession to Ros with nine seconds to go.
Dominguez then looked to have won it when no VICI Aistes player picked her up as she dribbled into the lane and made an easy, right-handed lay-up.
Valentiene's three-ball at the death won it for VICI Aistes, though, and kept their faint play-off hopes alive.
Belarus international Likhtarovich led winners with 17 points while the clutch Kuktiene had 15 points, which included makes on three of her five shots from behind the arc.
Valentiene made all three of her attempts from long range and scored nine points.
As a team, VICI Aistes were 10 of 21 on their three-pointers.
Aija Putnina was two of five from long range and scored 13 points.
She and Likhtarovich each had seven rebounds.
Ros were led by Ann Wauters' 18 points.
Sancho Lyttle has been suffering from gastroenteritis and did not travel to Lithuania and play for Ros Casares on Wednesday.
Ros Casares Head Coach Natalia Hejkova
"I'm disappointed because it's really a good Kaunas win but with a lucky shot at the end. If we want to win here we have to be better for 40 minutes not only in second half. It was not enough and that's why we lost."
VICI-Aistes Kaunas Head Coach Mantas Sernius
"I dedicate this victory to our fans and to Sandra Linkeviciene who is a big loss for our team. We had our system of play, we knew the opponent's weak and strong points. At the end we were tired and Ros Casares made points from the paint but we gave 100% ourselves tonight and kept fighting till the last second."
VICI-Aistes Kaunas player Rima Valentiene
"It was a coach decision that I took the last shot. God helped me. After all the hard work we had put in training we believed that some day we should be rewarded."
Ros Casares player Ann Wauters
"Congratulations to Kaunas first. I think we played a bad game especially in the first half, but we battled back in this game. We knew it's not easy to play here. It was a lucky shot but for us now it's a loss. When we lost to Prague it was a good lesson for us. I hope this will be the same."