By Joseph Wilson
Spain beat a brave Belarus 63-56 and took third place in EuroBasket Women 2009 for the fourth time this decade, having already claimed the bronze in the 2001, 2003, and 2005 championships.
The game was defined by an early Spanish run that put Evaristo Pérez's squad ahead 27-8 in the second quarter.
But coach Anatoli Buyalsky was able to rally his troops to fight back over the course of the game and close to within six points with under a minute to go.
|Yelena Leuchanka finished with 13 points and nine rebounds for Belarus.|
"We're really happy to get this medal. I think the team deserve it," said Anna Montañana, who led the way for Spain with 16 points.
"Probably every team thinks they deserve it, but we only lost one game and had eight great games. Yesterday we didn't have a good game [Spain lost to Russia 77-61], but we should be really proud because even though yesterday was a big disappointment, today we came back and proved we have a lot of heart."
Belarus began the game looking inside to center Yelena Leuchanka, who took her team's first five shots, making two, during the initial four minutes of the contest.
Leuchanka would finish with 13 points for the game while her partner in the paint, Anastasiya Verameyenka, shot a great 7-of-8, including 2-for-2 from three-point land, for 16 points to go along with four blocks.
Belarus guard Natallia Anufryienka made it a one-point game at 9-8 with 3:36 to play in the first.
Belarus then went scoreless for the next 6:30, spanning the end of the first and the opening minutes of the second quarter.
Spain did not let the opportunity go to waste and went on an 18-0 run, opening a 13-8 lead at the end of the first quarter that they extended all the way to a 19 point advantage (27-8) just over three minutes into the second. Everyone got in the action during the run, from Amaya Valdemoro down to little-used Tamara Abalde and Siliva Domínguez.
Belarus point guard Natallia Marchanka finally stopped the bleeding on a three-pointer with exactly 6:00 to play in half.
Spain went to the break up 36-20, but anyone who thought the game was over was sorely mistaken. Fortunately for Spain, coach Evaristo Pérez was not among them.
"Both teams know each other very well, so we know each others' tactics and players.
Although at halftime the game looked broken, I knew it wasn't. I thought they would come back and it would be a tough came and that is what happened," said Pérez.
"Luckily for us we could hold off their come back and win the game."
Belarus opened the third with a 9-0 run. Verameyenka hit a three off an assist by Leuchanka who then made a post move for two more, and Anufryienka scored four points to cut Spain's lead to 7 (36-29), all in under two-and-a half minutes.
Captain Nataliya Trafimava cut it to five with a three-pointer at 3:45, but a triple from the wing by Laura Nicholls pushed Spain's lead back to nine heading into the fourth.
In the fourth quarter Spain tightened their defense and Belarus turned it over four times in the first three minutes. Even so, another three by Marchanka pulled Belarus to within six with 7:48 to play
Tatyana Troina saw a three rim out and an Alba Torrens triple from the left corner pushed the lead to eleven with just under six to play.
But Belarus still wasn't done. Verameyenka swished another three-ball to cut it back to eight with under five to play.
Spain was up 60-48 when Leuchanka scored with 2:16 left. The Spaniards couldn't answer and Belarus scored six more points (three by Leuchanka, three by Marchanka) to get as close as they would come at six points down (61-56) with :58 seconds on the clock.
"I want to thank my players for this game because even though we played very bad in the first half we found the strength and will to play till the end and stay in the game till the last minute;" said coach Buyalsky.
"Talking about the tournament over tall, I am satisfied that we did what we came here to do, to qualify to go to the World Championships. So over all I am glad."