Lithuania Looks To Make History

25 July 2008
Lithuania will bid to reach their first final of the U18 European Championship for Women when they face off with France in Saturday's opening semi-final at the City Hall in Nitra, Slovakia.

The winners of that game will go on to face either the Czech Republic or Russia - who contest the second semi-final - on Sunday.

Since the tournament became an annual event in 2004, the Lithuanians's best result at this level had been a
Anastasiya Shilova (Russia)
Anastasiya Shilova was key in the Russian's win over France.
fifth place finish in 2006.

Should they beat France, Ramune Kumpiene's girls will not only make it to their first ever U18 final, but also keep their unbeaten record alive, having recorded six victories in as many games so far.

Lithuania breezed through their opening round but head into the semi-finals on the back of two hard-fought game.

On Wednesday, they played mostly from behind and only secured a 55-52 win over the Slovak Republic on a pair of free-throws by Aurime Rinkeviciute with 23 seconds left to play.

On Thursday, it was a similar scenario as the Lithuanians trailed by as many as 14 and needed a strong push in the final frame to beat the Czech Republic 69-61 and clinch Group E.

Rinkeviciute spearheaded a fourth-quarter comeback on her way to a game-high 26 points and once again her clutch free-throw shooting in the final minute was a decisive factor.

France had a similar road to reach the last four of the competition as they won their first four games by 30 or more points before being seriously put to the test in their last two contests - which they split.

Gregory Halin's girls grinded out a 62-58 win over rivals Spain on Wednesday thanks to 24 points by Diandra Tchatchouang and Allison Vernerey's 16 points and 15 rebounds.

They went on to suffer their first defeat of the tournament going down 65-57 against Russia on Thursday. Les Bleus looked headed into the semi-finals on the back of their own run of six wins in as many games as they led 33-23 midway through the second quarter, but a lacklustre second-half performance on their part and much-improved offense by the Russians flipped the script . With the win, Russia took top honours in Group F.

Now France look to regroup and beat tournament favourites Lithuania in order to reach their first U18 final since 2002. Should they make it through to the last two, they will then try to clinch a maiden title at this age level.

In Saturday's second semi-final, Russia look to get past the Czech Republic and reach the final of this competition for the first time since 2004, when they beat Spain to win the tournament for a third time in a row.

The Russians swept their opening group games but suffered a shock 65-56 loss against Sweden in the first game of the qualifying round on Tuesday. Their defensive effort was questionable as they let their opponents play to their strengths - spreading the floor to create open jumpers on the perimeter, which Jan Engebo's girls hit on the day.

They rebounded well from that result to crush defending champions Serbia 74-55 and their place in the semi-finals was guaranteed once Spain hammered Sweden 81-69 on Thursday.

The Russians stole first place in Group F from France by beating them thanks to a strong second-half performance by Anastasiya Shilova who scored eight straight points in the pivotal third quarter to give her team a lead which they didn't relinquish the rest of the way.

The Czech Republic have made it this far somewhat unnoticed and are considered outsiders as they compiled the worst record (3-2) in the Qualifying Round of the four teams that made it to the semi-finals.

The Czechs stumbled out of the gates by losing 76-72 against the host nation on the opening day of the tournament but recovered well to handily beat the Ukraine, Romania, Poland and Turkey.

They come into their semi-final clash against Russia on the back of a solid effort against Lithuania. Romana Ptackoa's girls led 35-26 at the break in their final Qualifying Round game and came within a fourth quarter of handing the mighty Lithuanians their first loss.

A win against Russia would see them through to the final for the first time since 2000.

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