|Forward/center Liene Jansone led the way for Latvia with a 15-point, 10-rebound effort|
Latvia blew open a close contest early in the fourth quarter and stormed to victory over Italy in the first game of the Qualification Round for next year's EuroBasket Women in France.
Playing at home, the Latvians trailed by as many as 11 points but outscored the Italians 26-10 over the last 10 minutes and won the Group E battle, 71-52.
Three times Italy closed to within one point early in the fourth quarter but the Baltic side always had an answer.
The decisive run began when 21-year-old Ieva Krastina connected from behind the arc for a 52-48 lead with 7:09 remaining.
After the Azzurre missed a shot from long range, Aigars Nerips' side struck again, this time with Zane Tamane catching a pass from Liene Jansone and racing in for a Latvia lay-up.
Krastina then drove in another dagger from behind the arc to stretch the Latvia advantage to 57-48.
The hosts pulled away for a decisive win.
Latvia, despite the international retirement of Gunta Basko and the unavailability of point guard Elina Babkina, have an interesting mix of youth and veterans.
Jansone, their 31-year-old power forward/center, had 15 points and 10 rebounds and point guard Kristina Karklina, 28, weighed in with 14 points.
Center Tamane also had 10 boards and five assists to go with her six points and Aija Putnina had seven points and 10 rebounds.
The national team looks as if it has a couple of rising stars, too, in Krastina and Anete Horelika.
Krastina was four of six from long range and finished with 14 points and small forward Horelika, 24, scored 13.
The Latvians dominated the boards, winning that battle 46-26.
The Italians do not have good memories of Latvia because it was there, at the EuroBasket Women 2009, where they suffered a second-half collapse against Greece and lost an important fifth-place game that prevented them from booking a spot in the 2010 World Championship.
That defeat also forced the Italians to go through qualifying for EuroBasket Women 2011 and they were unsuccessful in that campaign.
On Tuesday night they were led by 23-year-old point guard Giorgia Sottana, who finished with 18 points and four assists.
Latvia were superior from long range, burying eight of 17 to Italy's five of 23 effort.
The home side also did a good job of getting to the line where they sank 15 of 19 free-throws.
Italy were a mere three of four at the stripe.
Italy head coach Roberto Ricchini
„Our team was not committed for all 40 minutes. The first 30 minutes were good, 5 minutes before the end we were trailing by 6 points. Still, at the end the gap started widening in favour of the Latvian team. They played better in the key points of the game. I take it as a good lesson for our team, which will eventually help us to prepare better for the upcoming matches."
Italy player Giorgia Sottana
„The end result does not really reflect the real level of both teams. We played good for three out of four quarters; still in the decisive points our opponents completely destroyed us. They picked up tons of rebounds at both ends of the court."
Latvia head coach Aigars Nerips
„We could not put our game together at the beginning of the game; still there were moments when the ball moved where it should not. Our key players missed a few shots in the first minutes. The Italian players did the same at the end of the game when it counted the most. In the key episodes, when the opponents took their game, switching our defensive system was the key. There were some errors from our side, still we played good defence and many of their offensive efforts were rejected by our team."
Latvia player Ieva Krastina
„The start of the game was not the way we planned. But we managed to regroup. Exhibition games brought us some losses in the final stage of the game, today we broke the streak. Our opponents crashed, because we managed to make them play our game."