Can Slovakia End Belarus Resurgence?

17.06.2009

Pokey Chatman's goal when she arrived as Slovakia's head coach was to bring the nation back to the prominence of four straight EuroBasket Women semi-finals appearances in the 1990s.

Standing in Chatman's Slovakians' way of reaching the 2009 semis are the 2007 bronze medalists Belarus, who are looking to continue their recent resurgence for another appearance in the final four.

Anatoli Buyalski's Belarus looked out of sync and hopeless just two games ago. But they found their form just in time to slip into the Quarter-Finals as the third-placed team from the Qualification Round Group F.

Slovakia ended up in second place in the Group E despite dropping their last game against Greece on the strength of their victory over hosts Latvia.

Head-to-Head: Slovakia and Belarus have never faced off in the EuroBasket Women though the Slovaks won two match-ups in the 2003 qualifiers to get to Greece.

Last Time Out: Slovakia barely lost their last Qualification Round game against Greece 59-57. Belarus cruised past Turkey 86-70 to reach the Quarter-Finals.

Key Match-Up: Natallia Marchanka vs. Zuzana Zirkova. The Belarus point guard Marchanka struggled throughout the tournament until the past two games, including her gutsy performance against Turkey in which she played with a face mask two days after breaking her nose. Marchanka will have to try to stop Slovakian scoring machine Zirkova, who is averaging 16.7 points per game. Marchanka will also be facing a Slovakian defense which collects a second-best 11.8 steals a game and will likely pressure her and try to wear her down and get to Belarus's reserve playmakers.

Key Stat: 45.2. That is Belarus's three-point shooting percentage (19 of 42) in their past two victories. If Buyalski's team can hit the long ball like that against Slovakia chances are good they can return to the semis.

X-Factor: Lucia Laskova. The Slovakian low post player has been coming off the bench for 6.2 points and 3.2 rebounds while hitting 42 percent of her three-pointers. Not only will Laskova be an important rebounder and defender against Belarus's low post stars Anastasiya Verameyenka and Yelena Leuchanka. Plus Laskova's ability to shoot the long ball may force Verameyenka or Leuchanka out of the low blocks.

Sounding Off: "There are no easy teams left in these quarter-finals. But I am glad we ae playing against Slovakia. We have never played them. But I think it's probably a little bit easier against Slovakia than against Spain." Belarus coach Anatoli Buyalski.

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