By Jeff Taylor
The Czech Republic left it late but finally got on top of Lithuania in the fourth quarter and marched to a 75-67 triumph in Vasto.
The Baltic side, destroyed in their previous game by Latvia, came out and fought as if they had a point to prove with Sandra Valuzyte spearheading a terrific defensive effort with four steals in the first half as they built a 45-35 lead.
The defending champions, upset by Germany two nights ago, persevered and eventually overtook their opponents.
|Lina Brazdeikyte helped Lithuania jump out to an early lead but they could not hang on.|
“Of course the win is very important for us, especially that we finish strong,” said the Czechs’ joint-head coach, Lubor Blazek.
“We were good in the preparations and it’s hard to see that we’re not playing that well right now.”
Ivana Vecerova, one of the Czech veterans, said: “In the first half, Lithuania played really hard and physical.
“We (eventually) figured out (how) to play against that.”
Midway through the third quarter, the Lithuanians still appeared to be in control.
Valuzyte made a pair of free throws to make it 51-44 and after Marketa Mokrosova hit a jump shot from the right, Elge Sulciute replied with a pair of free throws.
The momentum shifted, though, after Ivana Vecerova and Eva Viteckova buried back-to-back three-pointers to close the gap to 53-52.
When Hana Machova drove in from the left for a layup and her first points of the game, the Czechs led 56-55.
At the start of the fourth, Machova connected from behind the arc to make it 59-56.
Jana Vesela and Eva Viteckova followed with baskets to make it 63-58 and the Czechs remained in front for the rest of the game.
“We started well but we started making some mistakes on defense, especially on defense,” said Lina Brazdeikyte, who led Lithuania with 13 points.
“The Czechs are a good team and they take advantage of any mistakes you make.
“There was a moment at the beginning of the fourth quarter when they took the momentum and we couldn’t catch them.”
“It was a good start for us offensively and defensively, but the rebounding was a problem for us,” said Lithuania coach Algirdas Paulauskas.
“The Czechs were just too tall. It’s sad that we couldn’t keep up how we started.”
By game’s end, the Lithuanians had only been edged out on the boards, 38-34.
Mokrosova and Viteckova each had 13 points, Petra Kulichova 10 and Vesela nine for the Czechs.
Sulciute and Agne Ciudariene weighed in with 12 points apiece for Lithuania, who made just three of 17 (17.6%) from the arc.
The Czechs were nine of 20 (45.2%) from long range.