By David HeinEvanthia Maltsi poured in 26 points as Greece qualified for the World Championship for the first time in history by coming back from an 11-point deficit to beat Italy 60-56 and take fifth place at the 2009 EuroBasket Women.
Pelagia Papamichail had 15 points and eight rebounds and Dimitra Kalentzou added 12 points, five rebounds and seven assists for the Greeks, who qualified for the 2010 Worlds in the Czech Republic as well as the 2011 EuroBasket Women in Poland.
"I am really happy because we are going to the World Championship. It was our dream coming here.
|Maltsi impressed yet again for Greece.|
But every game we took one at a time and stayed focused and concentrated. And we proved today that we are a good team and earned the respect of everybody," said Maltsi, who also had six rebounds and three steals while hitting 6 of 8 three-pointers.
"She is the heart of the team and has great talent. But for me the most important thing is that even though she is a star she listens to the coaches like she's a rookie," said Greek coach Konstantinos Missas about Maltsi.
Missas was smiling while talking to reporters and watching his players do the traditional Greek dance on the court after the victory.
"We're Greeks. That's our passion," said the coach.
"Whooo! We are so ... I really don't have words. It's so important what happened today. We're so excited, we deserve this. We showed character, we showed passion," said Papamichail.
"Sure we are not happy. We lost an opportunity today. For 30 minutes we played a very concentrated game. But we knew that if we left them something that they will take it immediately. We just lost our game," said Italian coach Giampiero Ticchi.
"We played very good in this championship and have to take all the good things we did for the future."
Laura Macchi was the only Italian player to score in double figures with 22 points while Simona Ballardini and Marte Alexander both scored nine points.
Italy built leads of four and five points in the first quarter in going ahead 15-10. But Maltsi hit three-pointers to start and finish a 13-0 run spanning the first and second quarter for a 23-15 advantage early in the second quarter.
But Ticchi's team turned up their defensive pressure and held Greece scoreless for almost six minutes as Italy went on a 10-0 run for a 27-25 lead.
The Italians were ahead 29-27 at intermission.
Greece were within 37-34 before Alexander scored four points on one possession in an 8-0 run to give Italy their biggest lead of the game at 45-34 with 2:47 left in the third.
"When we were 11 points down, we found our heart and stayed concentrated. And we believed we would win this game," said Missas.
Maltsi drained a three-pointer and Lolita Limoura hit a lay-up - her first points of the tournament - to make it 46-40 after three periods.
The Greeks played zone defense in the fourth quarter and Italy could not solve it, going scoreless for four minutes. Kalentzou's jumper knotted the game at 50-50 with four minutes left.
"When it was 50-50, I knew that we would win this game," said Missas.
Maltsi knocked down a three-ball and then Kalentzou hit a driving lay-up and assisted a Papamichail lay-up as Greece opened a 58-52 advantage with 35 seconds left.
And Papamichail's lay-up with 10 seconds to play iced the game at 60-54.