EuroLeague Champions BC Volgaburmash Samara left it late, but managed to squeeze out a 2-point victory over Lithuanian side Lietuvos Telekomas in the Final Four in Brno on Friday night.
Samara never expected an easy ride against a Telekomas side in their second consecutive Final Four, but the champions never really managed to hit their stride, and left it to the last seconds to secure the win.
"Anything can happen at the end of the game, we are experienced and know what to do," said Samara captain Ilona Korstin.
|Ann Wauters was a force on the boards for Samara|
Up 63-58 with just over 90 seconds to play, Samara seemed to have the win in the bag, but Rima Valentiene hit a clutch three-pointer to bring her side back from the brink of elimination.
Samara answered with a jump shot from Maria Stepanova, but veteran center Jurgita Streimykte sliced through the defense for a lay-up to bring Lietuvos back to within two points with 30 seconds remaining.
It was a then a matter of running down the shot clock for Samara.
Valdemoro attempted a jump shot with 11 seconds to go, but Lietuovos could not secure the boards, and an offensive rebound from Olga Arteshina allowed Samara to run out the clock for the win.
"The plan was to let them shoot and then get the rebound and a chance for the final shot," explained Lietuvos Telekomas' Ieva Kublina of her team's end of game strategy. "Everything went to plan except we didn't get the rebound."
Offensive rebounding proved the story of the game for the Russians. When Samara attacked the boards, they controlled the game, but they couldn't establish dominance for long enough to take a commanding lead.
After a slow start by the champions which saw them trail 1-6 after 3 minutes, Samara gradually found their way into the game thanks to some inspired play from Ann Wauters. The Belgian international scored 15 points and grabbed 9 rebounds in the first half (including 6 on the offensive end) as Samara led by as many as 10 points in the opening 20 minutes.
Lietuvos were hampered by a poor performance from star Katie Douglas, who faced at least two defenders every time she touched the ball, and the pressure took its toll. She missed her first five shots and didn't make her opening field goal until after 15 minutes.
However, despite Douglas' failure to find her shot, Lietuvos stayed in touch, mainly thanks to some good work on the boards by Irena Baranauskaite (15 rebounds, 6 offensive) and timely three-pointers from Valentiene, Jennifer Derevjanik and Douglas.
Lietuvos came back in contention in the third quarter, even taking a brief lead on a Katie Douglas jump shot with three minutes to play in the period, 41-42. But Samara rallied with an 8-0 run, and only a three-pointer in the last seconds by Valentiene gave Lietuvos some hope going into the fourth, 45-50.
Lietuvos tied the game quickly in the last period with another Valentiene three-pointer, 52-52. The teams traded leads three times, but strong play from Samara and Amaya Valdemoro (she hit five points and dished 1 assist in the final five minutes) gave them the edge down the stretch and Arteshina's offensive rebound provided the final touch.
"It was a very hot atmosphere with good basketball," said Korstin.
"They were agressive with good defense but we were strong at the end. The first game (in a Final Four) is always difficult because of the intensity but we are happy to be on top."
Wauters finished with a game high 19 points and 14 rebounds for Samara. Korstin added 15 points and Maria Stepanova 14 and 4 blocks.
Douglas finished with a team high 14 points, but shot just 5/20 from the field.