Latvia Just Manage To Stay Perfect
Latvia celebrated on Tuesday night after another Greek drama at the EuroBasket Women in Liepaja.
Staring a first defeat in the face after a remarkable second-half performance by EuroLeague Women All-Star Evina Maltsi of Greece when she scored 20 of her 24 points, the Latvians snatched a 70-68 overtime victory to complete a perfect 3-0 run in Group B.
"I give a very big thanks to my players," Latvia coach Ainars Zvirgzdins said.
"To get stronger, we need these types of games because you don't always win by 20 or have luck on your side."
Greece, after falling to a shot in the final seconds against Poland on Monday, were deprived of their greatest-ever victory.
A raucous crowd of 3,000 fans yelled from start to finish, something the Latvian players fed off especially in the overtime period.
Greece went in front by four points in the extra period and were still on top at 68-65 with 1:14 to go after Styliani Kaltsidou (21pts) made two free throws.
Gunta Basko buried a jump shot with 51 seconds to play to reduce the deficit to one and then after the Greeks failed to execute on their offense and turned the ball over, Basko caught the ball on the run. Just as she made contact with a defender, Basko threw the ball up in the air.
The ball bounced off the glass and fell through the hoop, and Basko also drew a foul on the play.
When asked if it was a prayer that she had thrown up on the lay-up, Basko said, "Yes, pretty much. I guess luck was on our side."
Basko made the free throw for a 70-68 lead with 24 seconds to go in the extra period.
Greece brought the ball up the floor and ran time off the clock before getting into their offense.
Maltsi caught a pass, dribbled just outside the lane in traffic and fell to the court with the ball going out of bounds.
The guard looked up, wanting a foul, but none was called.
Latvia quickly inbounded the ball and Greece failed to foul to stop the clock.
"This game had a lot of passion, a great game," said Greece coach Kostas Missas, whose team trailed 37-21 at half-time but fought back.
"I think we did a very good job to control the rhythm of the game, even when we were down, we had patience to come back."
Greece could have, and should have won the game in regulation.
Pelagia Papamichail was fouled with three seconds remaining and her team trailing 58-57.
If she made both, Greece would have led by one but she missed the first and made the second.
Latvia, after a timeout, inbounded the ball at midcourt to Anete Jekabsone-Zogota, who led the team with 24 points in regulation.
The 2007 FIBA Europe Women's Player of the Year worked herself free from a tenacious Greek defense and launched a potential game-winning three-ball but missed and the game went to overtime.
"Had we made one more free throw in regulation, we could have won but in basketball you also need luck," Missas said.
"In overtime we had three chances to win the game but we didn't execute our offense as well as we could have.
Rebounding is usually the Achilles heel of the Greeks but on this occasion, they more than held their own with 29 compared to 32 for Latvia.
Greece's defense was outstanding and forced Latvia to turn the ball over 23 times.
"It was a very tough game," Kaltsidou said.
"Latvia was a very good team. We thought we could win, unfortunately at the end we didn't have any luck and that was we lost the game.
"It was a great atmosphere tonight because there is a lot of fans and that is not the case in women's basketball in Greece.
Latvia will now travel to Riga with three wins, but knowing that nothing is going to come easy as was evident in Liepaja on Tuesday night.
"I'm really happy that we could win this very hard game," Basko said.
"The start of the second half wasn't easy for us but we showed we had big passion and we won this game."