By Cindy Garcia-Bennett
Russia gave their fans a scare when they lost to Serbia in their opening Group F qualifying game but star center Maria Stepanova has assured everyone back in Moscow that all is well.
And anyone who has followed Stepanova and Russia in recent years will know that she is probably right.
The Russian center poured in 15 points and pulled down 11 rebounds as her team bounced back with an 87-73 thrashing of Belarus.
Stepanova has been leading her team in scoring at 15.5 points per game and is also the top rebounder in the tournament at 9.5 per contest.
Stepanova spoke to FIBA Europe ahead of Wednesday's game against Spain.
|Stepanova and Russia will have to contain CSKA team-mate Amaya Valdemoro on Wednesday.|
FIBA Europe: How difficult was it to come back from the 67-65 defeat to Serbia, which knocked Russia from the ranks of the unbeaten?
Stepanova: "I think we can always play well but the problem is a psychological one, for some reason. When we start (tournaments), we need to lose in order to react and win. I think the difference was that in the game against Belarus, we played better defense than in our last game and that was the key."
FIBA Europe: Russia take on unbeaten Spain in the last qualifying round game on Wednesday with the number one spot up for grabs. What can we expect from this game?
Stepanova: "It's a very difficult game because Spain have been playing very well and they remain undefeated in this tournament. I believe they are favourites to win. We want to finish first of our group although in this tournament it's not easy to predict who we will face in the next round because there have been surprises and there are teams that are playing very well."
FIBA Europe: Wednesday's contest will give the opportunity to face CSKA Moscow team-mate Amaya Valdemoro. Are you looking forward to competing against her?
Stepanova: "Amaya is a great player and I really like her. It's going to be difficult for us.
We must think about how we will play defense against her because she is a very important player for Spain."
|Stepanova hopes a frustrating loss to Serbia will spark better play.|
FIBA Europe: What do you think about the tournament so far?
Stepanova: "I like it. I think this tournament is wide open. One day you can lose by 20 points and the next win by 20 points, so it's very competitive and there's no room for relaxation."
FIBA Europe: What is the pressure like for Russian players?
Stepanova: "For us, gold is our aim ever since we came here. We are the second best team in the world, we must win and we are here only for the gold medal. I hope that we can achieve it, for us anything else wouldn't be acceptable."
FIBA Europe: It has been a great summer for Russian basketball with the men's national team having upset nation Spain in the final of the EuroBasket men in Madrid last month. How great would it be for the Russian women to make it a double?
Stepanova: "The Russian team were not favourites going into the EuroBasket men and they won gold. We are considered among the favourites to win the title but I still believe the tournament is wide open. Of course, it would be great to win."