By Jeff Taylor
Lithuania caught fire from three-point range to win a Group E thriller against Turkey 67-61 and qualify for the quarter-finals of the EuroBasket Women.
Rima Valentiene, having missed her only shot from behind the arc through three quarters, connected on all four of her attempts in the final 10 minutes and Iveta Marcauskaite also
made both of her long-range shots.
|After missing time with a back injury Nevriye Yilmaz put forth a herculean effort for Turkey.|
When asked about Valentiene’s performance, Lithuania coach Algirdas Paulauskas said: “I can only say a big, big thanks.”
If they had not been on target, Nevriye Yilmaz would have gained all the plaudits because she scored 12 of her 20 points in the final quarter in a terrific performance after missing two games with a back injury.
Her jump shot with 3:53 remaining tied the game at 61-61, and took her points haul to 20.
After each team failed to score on four consecutive possessions, Turkey called timeout.
When play resumed, Nilay Yigit penetrated into the lane in a clear attempt to get the ball to Yilmaz, but Lithuania’s defense held firm and Agne Ciudariene stole the pass.
Valentiene went to the other end and made her last three-ball with 1:01 remaining.
Yasemin Horasan was off target for Turkey, and Marcauskaite struck from long range for the six-point win.
Turkey coach Cem Akdag said: "I am really proud of my players today. We hassled Lithuania until the end. I am really sorry for my team because they gave everything they had.
“Lithuania were shooting from outside with number fifteen (Marcauskaite) and nine (Valentiene) and it was impossible to stop them.
"Our intention was to get the ball to Yilmaz as much as possible but we couldn't do that at the end."
Turkey led by as many as five points in first quarter but trailed 16-15 by the end of it.
Yigit was outstanding in the opening two quarters for the Turks, pushing the ball up the floor on fast breaks and driving all the way to the basket on her way to 11 first-half points.
But Lithuania, with Egle Sulciute scoring eight and Lina Brazdeikyte and Milda Sauliute weighing in with seven apiece, helped the Baltic side take a 34-30 lead at the interval.
In the first half, Paulauskas’ team was five of nine (55.6%) from behind the arc.
The Lithuanians then opened up a 45-36 lead midway through the third quarter, and Turkey’s hopes started to fade.
Yasemin Horasan scored on consecutive trips down the floor and Esmeral Tuncluer drained a three-ball to close the gap to 45-43 with three minutes to go in the period.
Akdag then got a lift from Birsel Vardarli, who hit back-to-back three-pointers as Turkey suddenly led 49-47 heading into the final 10 minutes.
“Our team was strong psychologically,” Paulauskas said.
“We didn't back down and found the power to come back.”
With Sandra Valuzyte leading a stalwart defensive effort, the power source on offense came in the form of Valentiene and Marcauskaite.
After their first qualifying round game, a 76-46 drubbing by Baltic friends Latvia, few would have given Lithuania a chance to reach the quarter-finals.
They even suffered a narrow defeat to the Czech Republic in their next game.
“We thought this was impossible for a few seconds only,” Valentiene said, when asked about their hopes of advancing to the last eight after the demolition by Latvia.
“We said then, in the dressing room, we can do this because we are a good team.”
Paulauskas, the Lithuania coach, added: “The game was really interesting for the public because there were not a lot of mistakes and the rhythm was high.
“We had problems with Yilmaz, but we were good at the three-point line and we won the rebounds. And our defense made some great plays and that was the key in the victory.”
Lithuania finished 11 of 19 (57.9%) from three-point range and they out-rebounded Turkey, 39-32.