Old Rivals Meet Again

19.06.2009

By Jeff Taylor

International basketball has 24 hours to catch its breath before another titanic struggle takes place at the EuroBasket Women in Latvia.

Russia and the team they beat in the championship game two years ago, Spain, will square off in Friday night's second Semi-Final.

It remains to be seen if anyone - the players, coaches or fans - will have enough energy for this game.

The Russians, winners of the title in Chieti after one of the most thrilling finals ever, will hope they have enough juice in the batteries after their 69-64 overtime triumph against Latvia on Thursday night.

The defending champions had to pull out all stops in the red-hot atmosphere of the Arena Riga to defeat Latvia.

A record crowd in the modern era (since the fall of the Soviet Union) of 8,713 turned out to watch as Russia won a game for the ages.

Becky Hammon scored nine of her 11 points in the extra period and the twin towers of Maria Stepanova and Irina Osipova combined for 29 points and 23 rebounds for the Russians.

Svetlana Abrosimova (13pts, 12rbs) and Ilona Korstin (14pts, 9rbs) also had big games for the Russians against Latvia.

By winning their Quarter-Finals (Spain beat Italy), both have qualified for next year's FIBA World Championship in the Czech Republic and also booked a spot at EuroBasket 2011 in Poland.

"We still want to win, so that pressure's still on us," Hammon said.

"We can't just be content with getting into the Final Four. We want to win the whole thing, so it's going to take another great effort and perseverance."

Russia have been a nemesis for Spain in recent times, yet they are the team that the Spaniards' EuroBasket Women 2007 MVP Amaya Valdemoro wants to face.

"We've got some unfinished business from two years ago," Valdemoro said. "But also from the World Championship in Brazil, last year in Beijing. Every year we've gone up against Russia, they've beaten us.

"This year, the young players have come out and really helped us in this tournament. I think we have the patience, and the players. We have a lot of confidence."

One of those youngsters is Alba Torrens, Spain's 6ft 3in lightning rod of excitement that has wowed the crowds with her end-to-end play so far.

The 19-year-old has started and averaged 7.4 points and four rebounds per game.

Another is Laura Nicholls, a 20-year-old center who looks to be on her way to a stellar career.

The Spanish team, who sat in the crowd and watched the drama unfold between Russia and Latvia, had to come through a hard Quarter-Final against Italy to get to the last four.

Evaristo Perez's team won that game 61-42. Unlike Russia, they had the luxury of not playing 24 hours later. It remains to be seen if fatigue will be a problem for the Russians.

"Russia is a step above the rest of the national teams," Perez said after the win over Italy, when asked if he preferred to face Latvia or the Russians in the Semi-Finals.
 
Last Time Out: Russia beat Spain 84-65 in the Quarter-Finals of the Olympics, outscoring them 28-10 in the last quarter. Tatiana Shchegoleva, who is with Russia this summer but isn't playing because of a back injury, had a game-high 19 points in that Beijing clash.
 
Stats: Spain had such good balance in their win over Italy that only one player, Anna Montanana, reached double figures in scoring. She finished with 10 points.
 
Key Match-Up: Russian frontcourt v Spain's frontcourt. Russia's towers of power, Maria Stepanova and Irina Osipova will earn the lion's share of the minutes against Spain's Lucila Pascua, Cindy Lima, Anna Montanana and Laura Nicholls.
 
X-Factor: Which point guard will play better? Hammon missed the first five games of the EuroBasket Women while on WNBA duty with the San Antonio Silver Stars while Spain co-captain Elisa Aguilar has quietly enjoyed one of her best summers in a Spanish shirt.
 
Sounding Off: "We know we've got our hands full with Spain. They're the only undefeated team in the tournament. We've got to be very focused, and disciplined with our spacing" - Russia's Becky Hammon

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