By David Hein
Defending champions Russia remained perfect at the 2009 EuroBasket Women with a convincing but unspectacular 66-51 victory over Belarus.
Valeriy Tikhonenko's Russians improved to 3-0 in the Qualification Round Group F by holding Belarus to just 34 percent shooting and out-rebounding the 2007 bronze medalists 44-32.
"We were prepared for this game and knew that Belarus was a good team and that they could hit the three-point shots," said Tikhonenko.
"After the second quarter we were a bit better with our defensive rebounds. We also tried to use our bench more today."
Maria Stepanova led the way with 17 points, eight rebounds and three blocks, though she turned the ball over seven times. All told, Russia lost the ball 21 times - three more than their average coming into the game.
"All in all the game was quite calm for us. We had control of the game. There were good and bad moments. But not special about this game was good," said Stepanova.
Ilona Korstin added 12 points and eight rebounds while Marina Kuzina chipped in 11 points off the bench.
Tikhonenko did not have the services of Tatiana Shchegoleva, who sat with a knee injury.
And Belarus boss Anatoli Buyalski was without his top scorer and main long range threat Tatyana Troina, who was ordered by doctors not to play.
"Our weakness today was our guards. We definitely missed Troina and the shooting she gives us and her presence. For now we're just going to forget this game and look to the next two games," said the coach.
Yelena Leuchanka was Belarus's leading scorer with 14 points to go with nine rebounds. And Nataliya Trafimava added 11 poitns.
Belarus point guards Natallia Marchanka and Volha Padabed combined to shoot 2 of 11 from the field.
Russia's struggles with ball handling started early on with two turnovers in watching Anastasiya Verameyenka get two inside baskets and then Marchanka nailed a triple for a 7-2 advantage.
Svetlana Abrosimova nailed a three-ball of her own to knot the game at 9-9 before Trafimava's second basket within a minute gave Belarus their last lead 11-9.
Stepanova stepped up with back-to-back scores and Kuzina drained a three-pointer and two foul shots in pushing the Russians ahead 18-11.
Belarus were able to trim the margin to 18-15 after one period.
Both sides failed to execute offensively early in the second quarter. Kuzina's three-pointer was the only score for either team in the first four minutes.
It was 23-15 when Trafimava's free throws with 5:16 left in the second quarter finally put Belarus on the board. Yuliya Dureika's offensive rebound and put-back was Belarus's first basket with a minute later.
Marina Kress's jumper pulled Belarus to within 28-23 before Russia made the final four points to lead 32-23 at intermission.
Leuchanka started getting a rhythm out of the locker room, knocking down three straight jumpers only to see Korstin match her basket for basket and Kuzina knock down triple to open the gap to 11 points - 43-32.
Buyalski's guards, however, did not go back to the well as Leuchanka went shot-less the rest of the quarter. And Abrosimova's break-away lay-up left the Russians ahead 48-34.
And the gap was 50-36 after three periods.
Stepanova scored on consecutive possessions in the fourth to increase the lead to 56-36. And Padabed's layup was Belarus's first basket of the quarter nearly 2:30 into the period.
Belarus could not get closer than 13 points the rest of the way.