Italy advances to the Quarter-Finals for the first time since 1995 after defeating a turnover-afflicted Lithuania 72-58 in a game that had an unlikely hero arise for Giampiero Ticchi's squad.
The Italian coach had been insisting in recent games that his outside players be patient and look inside to their center Marte Alexander instead of basing all their chances of victory on their three-point shooting and drives into the lane.
Against Lithuania his team finally stuck to the game plan and Alexander responded with a huge 17 points, seven boards, and eight fouls drawn. She hit on five-of-six of her shots, including a three-pointer to give Italy the lead at 39-37 with 6:13 left in the third.
|Marte Alexander played well in all aspects of the game for Italy.|
"I just stepped out and took the shot because it was the shot to take. And I was lucky that it went in," said Alexander about her key triple, the first she had attempted in all the tournament.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Alexander's performance is that she was hampered by two quick personals in just four minutes and yet managed to only pick up one more during the game and stay aggressive in her 18 minutes on the floor.
"I started the game not focused and made some stupid mistakes and got myself taken out of the game because of some foul problems," Alexander said.
"We went into half-time and I was thinking about not following the game plan and I tried to take it to heart. I just tried to stay in the game and tried to do the best I could."
Italy needed an inside presence against a bigger opponent and especially on a day when their sharp-shooters' aim was off. As a team they only made 27% of their tries from beyond the arc, a stat which normally would spell doom for Italy, but today was offset by the more balanced attack.
"She [Alexander] is a great player, we need her and Kathrin Ress, our bigs, a lot," said teammate Rafaella Masciardi, who notched twelve points in the game.
"I think we are a team that is more talented on the outside, but if can pass the ball more inside and play more inside, it is easier for us to have the ball free on the outside."
Lithuania goes home after only winning one of six games.
"I'm really a little bit disappointed in the whole tournament - but never in the team," said coach Rutenis Paulauskas.
"We lost some energy and some physical power. We also lost some self-confidence by losing some games in the final minutes. But I think we have a very good team and they will be one of the best teams in the future."
Lithuania can easily point to their difficulties handling the ball as the number one cause for coming up short in a do-or-die game. Paulauskas's team coughed the ball up six more times than they were able to put it through the hoop- 24 to 18.
An even first half featured good shooting from both squads- Lithuania making 54% and Italy 47% of their attempts from the field.
Lithuania even hit their magic number of an eight-point lead- the margin they needed to win by to keep their hopes alive of qualifying for the Quarterfinals- with 54 seconds to go in the first half on a shot by Agne Ciudariene (team-high 17 points).
Ciudariene would score her team's next points as well. Too bad for Lithuania they would come with just 4:12 to go in the third.Italy meanwhile went on a 12-0 run to turn the game to their favour for good.
Rutenis PAULAUSKAS, Lithuania Head Coach
"I'm really disappointed about the whole tournament, but I'm never disappointed with my team even though we lacked some physical power. This is a very young and talented team, in the future it will be one of the best teams in Europe."
Giampiero TICCHI, Italy Head Coach
"In the first half we didn't follow the plan. It happened because we haven't been playing at this level for many years."