by Paul Nilsen
There was a party atmosphere in Napoli on Saturday night as hosts Italy topped their group and maintained their perfect record with a 64-52 win over Serbia in front of a noisy home crowd.
Guard Stella Panella who top scored with 15 points was enjoying the celebrations with her team mates and home supporters after the final buzzer and revealed that despite the margin of victory, the game was the most intense of the first three days.
"It is fantastic as a player to get the three wins because we now have respect even if we have not won anything yet."
"The coach always talks to us about getting respect and now we have it, we can look forward to the next phase of the tournament."
"The first game was the easiest and the second game was the one where we had the most nerves"
"This was the most intense game because Serbia never let go at any point and were always trying until the last second."
In a great advertisement for the tournament, both teams were almost inseparable in a keenly fought first half with neither team able to make a break. Italy might have scored the first 6 points of the game but an 8-0 burst by Serbia handed them a 15-11 advantage in the first quarter.
It was then the turn of the home team to get their offence back into gear, ending the period with 10 of the last 14 points to edge ahead at 21-19.
The second quarter was a mirror image if the first, neither team backing down in a pulsating contest and one that gave a healthy and very vocal local crowd much to talk about during the interval.
Both teams shared around their scoring and rotated their players really well but Serbia always looked the more likely to forge ahead having sneaked in front at 36-34 going into the second half.
The game was played at a frantic pace and as time wore on, the tempo barely dropped with both teams showing terrific energy. It was Italy who found an extra gear in the third and managed to score seven straight points to go ahead 43-38.
It was an advantage that they held going into the final ten minutes of the game but at 48-41 you still sensed that Serbia might still have one major run in them but for that to happen, they had to get some inside scores.
They were finding it difficult against the zone and rather than a run, they began to get frustrated. A beautiful jump shot by Stella Panella opened Italy's account in the final quarter and put further pressure on Serbia who eventually cracked.
Looking tired, Italy gabbed the momentum to put in an 8-0 run that finally killed off Serbia at 60-45 and the celebrations started early as the home fans left the Arena and ready to party.