By David Hein
Defending champions Russia may be in superb form and in line to get better with the completion of their roster upon Becky Hammon's arrival at the 2009 EuroBasket Women, but the 2007 bronze medalists Belarus must quickly find themselves.
Otherwise Anatoli Buyalski's Belarus side, which enters its Qualifying Round Group F contest with an 0-2 record, could find itself homeward bound sooner than it had expected.
Belarus may not yet be facing a must-win situation, but Buyalski can ill afford to watch his team can beat soundly by Russia, which may just shatter any confidence the team has right now after a subpar Preliminary Round.
Russia meanwhile sit atop Group F as co-leaders with France with a 2-0 record. Coach Valeriy Tikhonenko has been pleased with his team's defensive performance thus far but would like to see offense execute more effectively.
Head-to-Head: Russia have knocked off Belarus in each of the past two summers - in their only two previous showdowns. Russia beat Belarus 87-73 in the 2007 EuroBasket Women Qualifying Round and then got past Belarus 71-65 in the first group stage of the 2008 Olympics.
Last Time Out: Russia finished off their Group C campaign in Valmiera at 3-0 with a hard-fought 60-52 victory over Lithuania. After suffering a tough overtime loss against France, Belarus then lost their second game of the Group D with a 67-58 defeat against Italy.
Key Match-Up: Belarus's Tatyana Troina vs. Russia's Svetlana Abrosimova. Troina leads the team in scoring with 11.3 points in just 20 minutes off the bench. But the question will be if she and second-leading scorer Katsiaryna Snytsina (10.7 points, also off the bench) can get their shots off against Abrosimova and Tatiana Shchegoleva.
X-Factor: Belarus point guard Natallia Marchanka. The veteran playmaker was named to the 2007 EuroBasket Women All Tournament team in Italy. But things have been an entirely different story in Latvia, where she leads the tournament in turnovers with 5.7 per game in the Preliminary Round. The Belarus floor general has also made just 3 of 18 shots from the field in scoring 2.3 points per contest. Marchanka undoubtedly must have a huge game for Belarus to surprise Russia.
Key Stats: 50.0 and 68.7, 31.3 and 44.9. Russia have allowed a tournament-fewest 50.0 points per game while Belarus have seen teams score 68.7 points - second worst of teams remaining. In addition, the Russians are holding opponents to just 31.3 percent from the field - a tournament-best - while Belarus's opponents shooting percentage of 44.9 is the worst of Qualifying Round teams.
Sounding Off: "We had some stretches where we played well defensively. But those stretches have to be based on good moral and wanting to play. And it seemed (against Italy) that we weren't at the level that we wanted to win." Belarus coach Anatoli Buyalksi