It was only after a long hard slog that Russia could claim victory this evening in the first Semi-Final of the Eural Trans Gas European Championship for U20 Women. In a game reminiscent of the Semi-Final of the U18 Championship 2 years ago, Czech Republic were not able this time to exact revenge for the defeat in 2002 and Russia again finished on top.
With many of the 2002 squad playing here in St. Brieuc it might have been a given that Russia would go through, but not if Czech Republic had anything to do with it. They came out looking to continue their unbeaten run and advance to the Final and for 30 minutes they seriously challenged their Russian counterparts and made them work for every single ball. So far in this tournament the tough Czech defence has kept all of their opponents under 70 points, but this evening the Russians were too strong over 40 minutes and especially too strong on the boards. Once again Russia out-rebounded their opposing team, this time 52-30.
|Liudmila Sapova (#14, RUS)|
Kuzina and Bokareva’s sheer size inside caused the Czech’s no end of problems as at one end they picked up the offensive rebounds and at the other, collected the ball after a missed Czech shot and sent it upcourt on the fast break. Kuzina had a great game, hitting 15, but it was forward Ana Lobanova and guard Marina Karpunina who pulled the double-doubles in this game. Lobanova had 11 points and 12 rebounds, Karpunina 21 points and 11 rebounds. Liudmila Sapova was also excellent for the Russians, hitting some important shots and going to the hoop when Russia need to score. She added 20 points to the scoresheet.
The Russians led by a small margin at the end of the first quarter, 23-18 but both sides had difficult patches and lacked rhythm. The Czechs kept pushing but picked up a lot of fouls and with 4 minutes left Darina Jahnova (24 points and 5 assists) had already been called for her 3rd. A 3-pointer from Jitka Musilova with a minute left brought the Czechs within 3 and then another on the buzzer brought a half-time result of 40:39.
The Czech team came out strong after the half-time and quickly took the lead 43-45 but a 3-pointer from Sapova quelled the attack and brought the Russians back in line. With the Czechs on their heels the Russians gradually pulled away in the 3rd period, especially as Johnova picked up her 4th foul early on. Without her on the court the Czechs werenot nearly so effective and with 2:30 left to play Russia had a 61-50 lead. The Czech team carried on fouling and in the last minute Karpunina hit 6/6 free-throws to take the margin to 68-53 after 30 minutes.
Karpunina kept on scoring going into the 4th and the faces of the Czech players showed pure resignation. Until Johnova returned to the court. Her presence rejuvenated the Czechs and within 30 seconds she had gone to the hoop, scored and was fouled and put in the resulting free-throw.
Russia stepped up the defence by tightening up the zone and Sapova scored twice to keep the Russian margin safe. Unfortunately Johnova didn’t get enough support from her teammates until it was too late. The 3-pointers put in in the last 2 minutes should have come earlier as Russia was quite able to hang on for the win.