By David Hein
Russia dominated the paint and gave up just six points in the fourth quarter in cruising to a 75-58 victory over Lithuania and advancing to the semi-finals of the 2007 EuroBasket Women.
Olga Arteshina's 17 points paced five Russians in double figures, and the 2005 EuroBasket and 2006 World Championship silver-medallists out-rebounded Lithuania 52-28 – including 21 offensive rebounds.
"We started slow but then we played like a team. We knew that we had to win and we
played together and got what we wanted,” said Maria Stepanova, who collected nine points and nine rebounds.
|Valentiene was the hero last time out for Lithuania but Friday Russia proved too strong.|
“Our aim is to be first in this tournament and if we continue to play as we have done, we can achieve it.”
The 2003 champions Russia have advanced to their fifth consecutive EuroBasket Women semi-final and face Latvia on Saturday in Chieti.
The 1997 title-holders Lithuania were led by 14 points from Iveta Marcauskaite and 13 from Sandra Valuzyte.
Algirdas Paulauskas's team ended up shooting just 39% (22-of-57) from the field despite a hot start.
“Russia had 52 rebounds which isn't acceptable. We are supposed to defend people better and box out,” said Paulauskas.
Marcauskaite added about Russia: “They are a team of champions, and we just have to learn from this game.”
The Baltic nation started lights out, hitting eight shots in a row and nine of their first 11 in opening a 23-14 lead after seven minutes.
The Russians remained close mainly because of their tenacity on the offensive glass but still, they trailed 25-21 after one period.
The Russians said Thursday's surprising quarter-final results and the pressure on themselves may have had an impact for their bad start.
“We saw that the French and Czechs lost yesterday. It's very unusual, but we thought about these two games,” admitted Ilona Korstin, who collected 10 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals.
“Quarter-final games are always special games with a lot of responsibility and the game is very important since if you win, you are in top four, and if you lose, you are fifth through eighth,” offered Russia boss Igor Grudin.
“You try to win your medals, or you are down. Maybe because of that, we had a lot of responsibility, a lot of stress. Maybe that's why we didn't play as well at the beginning.”
Regardless, Tatiana Shchegoleva's lay-up trimmed the margin to 29-28 with seven minutes left in the second quarter.
While Russia's offensive struggles went on, Grudin's team continued to fight on defence as they held Lithuania to just two baskets over the next four minutes but went scoreless over the same stretch in falling behind 33-28.
The Russians trailed just 35-32 going into the final minute of the first half and Shchegoleva
evened things at 35-35 on a three-pointer with 52 seconds left – ending Russia's 0-of-7 drought from long range to start the game.
|Lithuania could have used Molletta in the paint where Russia dominated.|
The Lithuanians led 37-35 at the break.
Irina Osipova scored two baskets as Russia opened the second half with an 8-2 run and Paulauskas had seen enough, calling a time-out after just three minutes.
Rima Valentiene, Lithuania's hero to reach the quarters, drained a three-pointer only to see Artsehina answer with back-to-back bombs for a 49-43 advantage.
But Valentiene struck again and Valuzyte's inside basket gave Lithuania the lead 50-49 with four minutes left in the third.
But that was the final lead for Lithuania as Russia again stopped the Lithuanian offence for four minutes, in scoring 10 straight points before Agne Ciudariene's jumper cut the deficit to 59-52 going into the fourth.
Svetlana Abrosimova had just given Russia their first 10-point advantage of the game – 62-52 – when Valuzyte's three-point play made it a seven-point contest with 7:01 remaining.
But the Baltic side was unable to find any rhythm against the stifling Russian backline and Grudin's main two weapons, Stepanova and Korstin stepped up when it counted most.
The superstars combined for Russia's final 11 points as the team went on a 13-3 spurt to close the game.
“We were very tired in the second half, and that's what made the difference. But we also had the bad luck of meeting Russia in the quarter-finals. They're a very strong team. Now we have to fight for the Olympics spot,” said Lithuanian captain Lina Brazdeikyte.
Lithuania take on France in Saturday's 5th-8th classification round.