By Paul Nilsen
|Better late then never: Katerina Elhotova found her touch from outside against Italy|
Turning Point: Having allowed Italy to claw their way back into the game and erase a 16-point first-half advantage to tie the game up 52-52 early in the final quarter, Czech Republic responded with a stunning 16-3 run which effectively sealed the win.
Stats Don't Lie: Italy tried to keep the pressure on Czech Republic, but only converting 15 of 24 free-throws didn't help, especially since the Czechs made 14 of 16.
Game Heroes: The backcourt did the business for Czech Republic, with Katerina Elhotova showing the kind of game which once led to her being a EuroLeague Women All Star as she amassed 18 points. Veronika Bortelova weighed in with 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
Czech Republic moved to the brink of a place at the FIBA World Championship for Women next year after a late surge lifted them to a 72-68 success against Italy whose dream of playing in Turkey next year are now over.
The Italians were left floundering on the start line at the beginning of the contest as the Czech team built up an almost instantaneous double-digit lead at 12-2 and then put their foot the accelerator even more.
Italian head coach Roberto Ricchini admitted his team had suffered a hangover from their quarter-final defeat.
He said, "At the beginning, we struggled because the game against Serbia left a scar on us.
"We just didn't start with the right mentality" bemoaned the play-caller.
"The Czech team played a really great game, so congratulations to them."
When Italy did finally get moving, they were still trailing 24-13 after the first ten minutes, with their rebounding deficiencies exposed. Worse was to follow when Elhotova dropped a three-ball to make it 31-15 and it looked a long way back for the Azzurre.
A rescue bid was eventually led by Giorgia Sottana, back with primary playmaking responsibility for Italy and her five points in a row sparked a 9-0 run, which got Italy back into the contest 39-24 at half-time.
The third quarter saw both teams labour offensively, Italy managing only a single free-throw by Raffaella Masciadri in almost seven minutes which allowed the Czech Team to pull away at 45-35.
Italy halved the damage by the end of the third and when the fourth quarter started, a nice reverse lay-up by Alessandra Formica and Sottana three levelled the scores.
But, Czech Republic then made their move and it killed Italy off, even though they did briefly wag their tails in the last couple of minutes.
Italy Player Giorgia Sottana:
"Congratulations to the Czech Republic. If you look at the satistics, they were up for more than 39 minutes, we were never leading, so there is not much to say. They started strong and they were up by 10 points at the beginning, we tried to recover but we could not do it."
Czech Republic Player Veronika Bortelova:
"We are very happy, it was very important for us to start well. Our first quarters were really bad in many games, so our coach told us to focus and we did. We were very concentrated on defence."
Italy Head Coach Roberto Ricchini:
"We did not start really well, they were brave so I want to congratulate them. Once we could tie the game, they kept the calm and they could play again their game. After yesterday's game, we were mentally tired, and we couldn't start concentrated. Anyway I am happy for the effort the team showed to recover, but the Czechs are a very good team."
Czech Republic Head Coach Lubor Blazek:
"I agree with my player that the first quarter probably decided the game. We did not play very well the first quarters in the previous games, so we were very focused on that. It was a hard game, we lost a lot of energy but we are happy and we will keep on fighting to go further."