by Paul Nilsen
Poland tore up the pre-game script and managed to re-write an absolute classic as they completed a famous 65-61 win over Russia with a memorable team performance that will live long in the memory.
The Polish locker room was bouncing to the sounds of the players celebrating a stunning success having forced a first defeat on the previously unbeaten Russian team.
Not only did the Polish players manage to overcome a double digit deficit at the midway point of the game but they also managed to cope with Russia pulling level in the last minutes to keep their nerve and see the game out from the line.
It left Coach Jaroslaw Pasieczny barely able to draw breath with excitement after the game had ended but his passion for his tam and country managed to shine through.
"We showed on the court the real heart of the Polish people. When it gets difficult we can come together and fight."
"It is of course a very good win for us and one of the best we have had."
"This team gets more and more experienced with every game and even though it is a very young team, we are learning very quickly and now we are getting some big victories."
"We look after our players with real care and they are like flowers. We take care of them and eventually they will blossom and this is what happened today."
"We will of course try to beat the Czech Republic tomorrow and we feel that maybe the most difficult games are behind us but we will still enjoy this for a short time and be ready for that game."
It had looked like Russia would be far too deep and talented for Poland in the first half and even into the early stages of the second half after they stormed into an expected lead.
Releasing their first quarter handbrake for the first time since arriving in Naples they actually started the game convincingly. Poland looked unable to match the strength of the Russian team inside and when they did, Russia popped the ball out to drain three triples in the first ten minutes.
|Magdalena Koperwas kept her head cool when draining the decisive free-throws of the game|
This was the catalyst for a 14-0 run that helped them into a 21-11 lead and by half time, little had changed with Russia predictably in control at 35-23. Center Ksenia Tikhonenko was already on 11 points and 8 rebounds and giving the Polish interior much to think about.
It was the third quarter when Poland then reversed the situation and gave Russia even more to consider when they held their illustrious opponents to just 8 points while racking up 19 of their own.
It turned the game on its head although most spectators and perhaps the Russian team and staff thought they would simply pull away again. It didn't happen and Poland just dug in and managed to hang tough to set up a superb finish.
With three minutes left and 59-54 ahead, Poland dared to dream. Little were they to know that they were to hold their nerve and realise those dreams.
When Alina Zamaraeva drew Russia level at 59-59 and Tikhonenko did the same at 61-61 with 21 seconds left it was easy to fear that Poland might allow the opportunity to pass. To their immense credit they didn't.
Magadelena Koperwas held her nerve from the line and then as Russia fumbled and turned the ball over on their last possession the same player gleefully wrapped up the victory for he underdog.