by Paul Nilsen
Russia Coach Anna Arkhipova Von Kalmanovich has paid tribute to Italy after her team inflicted a heart-breaking 65-64 overtime loss on the hosts to set up a semi-final clash with Spain.
In a truly astonishing game of basketball, the emotion in the Arena after the final buzzer had ended was incredible. There were floods of tears from not only the Italian but also the Russian players, crying out of sheer relief in a game that will live forever in the memory.
Even the Russian play-caller was dripping in sweat and still shaking her head in disbelief at the level of intensity as she praised both teams for their efforts.
"That was incredible. I can't believe it. It was an amazing game and nobody deserved to lose that is for sure."
|Marta Masoni stepped up her game with good defence against Tikhonenko to go with 8 pts and 7 rbs.|
"I want to say a big thank you to Italy because they made it so tough and sometimes it is difficult when you are playing against the hosts of any tournament."
"I thought my players never gave up and we will be ready for the semi-finals."
"I believe that even after this game that my players will be prepared and ready for Spain and we have the depth to overcome the work that we had to do tonight."
Italy were handed a real boost ahead of the game when influential center Alessandra Formica declared herself able to play after sustaining what looked to have been a tournament ending injury earlier in the week.
Even not fully fit and with heavy strapping on both knees, her physical presence was always going to be needed inside against fellow center Ksenia Tikhonenko.
With Italy back on the floor two things were guaranteed, a great atmosphere and a another addictive dose of unwavering intensity throughout. The other two issues were far from being a guarantee although no less important. Could the home team once again rely on their incredible perimeter shooting and would they be involved in yet another classic thriller?
In a predictably up-tempo first quarter, Italy shaded things slightly to take an 18-17 advantage into the second period. The game had a great ebb and flow with little to separate both sides as evidenced when Marina Ryavkina sunk a three-pointer to tie the game up at 22-22.
However soon after, Russia uncharacteristically lost their composure, trying to force the ball inside and fouling needlessly. This gave Italy an opportunity and they made the most of it with a 6-0 run.
With five minutes left to play until the interval, Galina Kiseleva finally found a way to manoeuvre her way to get to the hoop and it sparked a 13-2 run.
|Galina Kiseleva posted an impressive double-double of 16 pts and 11 rbs|
When the impressive Kiseleva scored off a nice hustle play and then drained a triple, it was time for a much needed Italian time-out and Coach Lucchesi duly obliged with two minutes to go until half time.
It did little to steady Italy down and they continued to be beaten up inside and off hustle plays with Kiseleva again getting herself inside to score yet again and harvest an excellent 13 points during the quarter.
Entering the last minute Italy desperately needed a score but it was Russia who extended their advantage. Yet again it was through offensive rebounding as Anna Khmelevskaya finished the scoring for the half and sent her team into the locker rooms leading 37-30.
The jubilation of Formica getting onto the floor for Italy had slowly ebbed away as she managed less than three minutes of action and certainly the 6 offensive rebounds for Russia compared to just two for Italy was telling.
However Caterina Dotto started the third quarter perfectly for the hosts with a trey from the wing and Italy really dug in thereafter, holding Russia to just one score in over three minutes.
When then Dotto pulled up for a nice jump shot from the free throw line, Italy were back to within one shot at 39-37 and it was time for Coach Arkhipova Von Kalmanovich to call a time-out - her players minds looking like they were still in the locker room.
There was then Italian delight as Formica grabbed her first basket of the game to tie the scores and within seconds they were ahead. Russia struggled to cope with the ball pressure being exerted the home team completed a stunning 14-2 run.
Russia then came back to tie at 44-44 with scores from Namok and Gladkova before they edged ahead at 47-46 entering what promised to be a nervous last quarter.
Three minutes in and neither team had made a move, Tikhonenko with a nice baseline drive and lay-up keeping Russia ahead at 51-49.
Finally Formica got a nice inside score and then Francesca Dotto came up with a big steal and fast break to put Italy 53-52 ahead with four minutes left remaining and the ‘Italia' chants ringing around the Arena.
Dotto then repeated her play but Tikhonenko was unstoppable and with classy back to back scores, a spin-move and jump shot, she handed the lead back to Russia. The tension was palpable during a time-out with Russia less than two minutes away from a semi-final spot.
After Ryavkina missed two free throws for Russia, Formica then made some free throws to go 59-56 in front with a minute of regulation remaining. Crucially guard Francesca Dotto then fouled out and Gladkova scored one free-throw.
Without Dotto, Italy pressed the self destruction button with needless back to back turnovers inside the last minute. Russia punished them big time as Darya Namok hit struck from downtown to put her team ahead 60-59.
It left Italy with the ball and with 23 seconds left. The tension during the time-out was unbearable. Caterina Dotto finally went to the hoop and was fouled with 8 seconds left and made one.
Russia then called a time-out to try and come up with a game winning play with 8 seconds left. However Stella Panella then grabbed a remarkable half court steal and fed Ferretti but she couldn't finish a lay up under pressure with 2 seconds left to claim glory.
In overtime Italy again started well and had the advantage with Formica opening her account but slowly Russia eased in front with just over a minute to play. The classy Tikonhenko then missed what looked to be a regulation put-back and it was in the hands of the Italians again to take the game.
They ended up with a baseline position with two seconds left and the ball found Caterina Dotto who rimmed out with a jump shot as she ran to remonstrate with the match official claiming a possible foul.
However Italian hopes of a medal were gone for this year and they now have to somehow pick themselves up for trying to get the not inconsiderable prize of fifth spot in the tournament and a place at next years World Championships.
As for the people watching - most wisely headed for somewhere to lie down to release the build up of emotional tension - and that was just the neutrals.