Will Heart Be Enough For Greeks Vs. France?

18.06.2009

By Jeff Taylor

No team played with more heart in the first two stages of the EuroBasket Women than Greece.

Will that be enough for the Greeks to hand France their first defeat of the competition when the two sides meet in the Quarter-Finals?

Greece's brightest star, Evina Maltsi, is averaging a tournament-best 22.7 points and 3.3 steals per game at the EuroBasket Women.

She watched the French beat defending champions Russia in the final game of the Qualifying Round and has nothing but respect for them.

"France is a very good team and plays great basketball," Maltsi said.

"They have a really good coach (Pierre Vincent) and are well prepared.

"They have perfect scouting, they know how to defend well, how to play on the weaknesses of their opponents."

Maltsi, who played under Vincent at Bourges in the 2006-07 campaign, knows she is in for a very hard game.

"I think they will put their best defensive player on me, Emilie Gomis, and then force me to go inside with Pelagia Papamichail," she said.

"They've done this in the past."

France have a clear size advantage and maybe the best low-post player in the competition in Sandrine Gruda, a very athletic 1.93 center who has hit 53.2% of her shots from the floor - many of them jump shots.

"Greece have a really good outside game but they have a weaker inside game," said Vincent.

"The key will be to put pressure inside and control their outside game."

Maltsi had a game-high 22 points in her team's 59-57 triumph over Slovakia that helped them earn a trip to the Quarter-Finals and Gruda said: "Maltsi is a very good player.

"We have to guard her well and play good defense."

As for their upset of Russia, Gruda said: "We really want to do something big here.

"Unlike two years ago, this time we have everything we need to win a medal. We can go all the way."

Gruda, who was UMMC Ekaterinburg's best player at the EuroLeague Women Final Four this year, was a member of the French side that lost to Latvia in the Quarter-Finals of the 2007 EuroBasket in Italy. Les Bleues then lost twice more to miss out on the 2008 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

"I am the leader of this team and I need to be there mentally, physically and be there until the end," she said. "That's the way I have to be."

Last Time Out: France forced Greece to commit 24 turnovers and beat them 58-50 in their opening Preliminary Round game at the EuroBasket in Italy two years ago.

Stats: France have shot 72.6% at the free-throw line but their biggest weapon on offense,  Gruda, has made just 19 of 32 (59.4%). Greece's Maltsi has hit 93.3% (14 of 15) but  because she has not attempted at least three per contest is not included among the statistical leaders in the category.

Key Match-Up: France's Gruda vs Pelagia Papamichail of Greece. On a Greek team that has trouble on the boards, Papamichail certainly pulls her weight. The Panionios Athens power forward averaged a tournament leading nine per game through the Qualifying Round.

X-Factor: Greece's Dimitra Kalentzou. France will remember Kalentzou's performance two years ago when the Esperides Kallitheas point guard had a game-high 16 points, dished out four assists and came up with two steals. Kalentzou has not shown that kind of firepower in Latvia so far (7.2ppg) but her 13 points, five assists and two steals in her team's vital win over Slovakia shows she has the potential to make a significant contribution when it counts the most.

Sounding-Off: "In this tournament, we saw that everything is possible. There is no team that cannot be beaten and now that we are here, we want to go as far as we can" - Greece's Evina Maltsi.


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