Russia Find Way Past Italy

14.06.2009

By Joseph Wilson

Russia built its win total to four in Group F with another convincing, but turnover-plagued victory over Italy 67-59. 

The first ten minutes provided good shooting from both sides. 

Italy's gunners got going early, hitting 3-5 from deep and 4-8 from two-point range. 

Simona Ballardini led the way with ten points in the quarter.    

Russia was paced to a 23-19 first quarter lead by the wrist of Svetlana Abrosimova, who scored twelve. 

"We knew Italy was going to play zone.  I wanted to get a feeling on how far they were going to extend the zone and they left me open.  The shots we going in so that's why I was really aggressive during the first ten minutes, and then the coach moved me to the first position to play point guard," said the forward who ended up with 19 for the game.

When the second quarter began, the defenses began to dominate and neither team could score with consistency.  It would be a dynamic that continued throughout the rest of the encounter.

Russia came into the game averaging a tournament-high 18 turnovers per game, and against Italy they were true to form giving away 18 more. 

The problem is not due to one player or a second squad. By quarter, Russia gave it away four times in the first, four times in the second, seven times in the third, and another three in the fourth. 

"In the second half we really tried to get the ball into the post but that wasn't working and we were still forcing the pass and that's what caused the turnovers," said Abrosimova, who committed five herself.

"It is our weakness right now and we know that."

After starting hot, Italy went cold.  They were especially afflicted at the foul line.  In the second quarter they came away empty-handed on all five of their trips to the charity stripe.

Even so, they were within four point in the closing seconds of the half before a Abrosimova jumper at the buzzer sent Russia to the break up 35-29.

For center Kathrin Ress, the key to keeping within striking distance was Italy's defense and staying aggressive.

"We would still attack them even though it was Russia, and everybody gets intimidated by them," said Ress, who helped battle Maria Stepanova and company down low. 

"We were just poised and able to attack them our way. And on defense we were able to bring them into difficulties with our zone and we kind of stopped their fast break."

Russia opened the fourth with a nine-point lead and pushed it to a maximum of 15 (61-46) at the three-minute mark on a free-throw by Stepanova, who had 14 in the game.

Two free throws by Italy's Marte Alexander would get it under ten for the final score of 67-59.

"It was a very tough game, very intense.  We knew that we were playing against a big team, and we are not ready yet to play against a big team like this, but we are improving to arrive to that level," said Italian forward Laura Macchi, who led her team with 15 points.

Russia, already qualified for the Quarterfinals since its previous win over Belarus, will play France in the last game of the round.  It could prove to be their biggest challenge yet.

"France is a new team with a lot of young players, but their most important players are Sandrine Gruda and Celine Dumerc," said Ilona Korstin, Russia's team captain (14 points, 5 rebounds). 

"They [Gruda and Dumerc] are their leaders and if we can play defense on them and control them, we can win the game."

Italy's upcoming opponent is the 0-4 Lithuania.

"The next game is very important [for us] to arrive to our big target of reaching the next step of the European championship," said Italian coach Giampiero Ticchi.

A victory over Lithuania is all that is standing in Italy's way.

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