|Julie Vanloo celebrates seconds after stealing the ball and passing to Meesseman, who drew the 'golden' foul. Let the Haka dance commence!|
After the Quarter-Final thriller in which they beat Turkey in the closing seconds, the Belgian players had presented their own version of the "Haka" dance.
They were wearing white jerseys, so it did not resemble so much the original thing by the New Zealand All Blacks.
It turned out it was just a rehearsal. The real show was about to come, and this time they would be wearing black.
Belgium upset the big favorites Spain in the second semifinal of the Global Vision U18 European Championship Women, 65-63, signaling the start of another impersonation of the warrior dance, the 'proper' way.
Spain controlled most of the game, and although their lead stretched only once to more than 10 points, they left the impression that they will hold on.
Astou Ndour scored 10 of her team's 19 points in the first quarter and added another five until halftime.
Her jump-shots could hardly be contested by Emma Meesseman, and Belgium coach Benny Mertens decided for some minutes to switch to Harriete Bende to defend Ndour.
Belgium used a 6-0 run carried from the end of the first quarter to the beginning of the second, to cut the lead to five points, 21-14.
But Yurena Diaz responded on the next possession with a three-pointer and then Spain took off again, after Vanloo committed an unsportsmanlike foul on Zanoguera who sank both free throws.
It was 32-20 for Spain midway through the second quarter but suddenly the flow of the game changed direction.
Belgium hit back with a 10-0 run to reduce the gap to only two points, 32-30, with 2:24 remaining to halftime.
Meesseman sank a jump-shot followed by back to back three-pointers by Lynn Delvaux and Heleen Adams, and for the first time in this tournament, Spain coach Miguel Martinez Mendez looked worried.
|Emma Meesseman had already scored 19 points on 53.8 percent shooting from the floor when she walked, as cool as ice, to the free throw line to bury two game-winning shots |
There was more to come from the Benelux team, as Vanloo buried a three point right before the buzzer to make it 39-37, after 20 minutes of playing.
Delaere gave Belgium their first lead of the game 41-42, with 7:24 remaining in the third, but it lasted only for 15 seconds, as Ndour made yet another jump-shot on the other side of the court.
Spain finished the quarter in the driver's seat and then took their biggest lead in the second half when Ndour took a desperation three-pointer, as the shot clock expired, which went in, to make it 61-49.
Game over, right? 'No way,' thought the Belgians!
Spain scored their final points with 4:31 to go, a jump-shot by Inmaculada Zanoguera. It was 63-52. Then they were silenced.
Delvaux sank two free throws, followed by Messeman, who punched the Spanish defense with a lay-up.
Vanloo caught fire, scoring five points in a row, and the opponents' lead shrank to only two points, 63-61.
The stage was set for the second episode of the "Meesseman Show".
The Belgian star scored a tough basket to level the score at 63-63 with 17 seconds to the buzzer.
Spain lost the ball on the next possession - Vanloo was responsible with a steal and she passed the ball to Meesseman, who got fouled with three seconds to go.
And once again she delivered, this time the ticket to the final.
She finished with 21 points on an impressive 53.8 percent shooting from the floor and eight rebounds .
Vanloo helped with her own 21 points, six rebounds and three assists.
After scoring 15 points in the first half, Ndour added only seven after the break, to go with her 10 rebounds. Andrea Vilaro contributed with 13 points, while Diaz had 10 for Spain.
Both teams had almost identical stats lines, but in the end the ones considered underdogs prevailed.
"We like this status. Now we already have a medal, so there is no pressure on our side. On the other hand, for France the win is a must," said a very happy coach Mertens.