Czech Mate - Russia capture European Crown

From Jeff Taylor, PA International, Patras

The Russian women´s wait for a first major title since the breakup of the Soviet Union is over.

Russia, taking on the unbeaten Czech Republic in the final of the European Championships
in Greece, snatched the gold medal in a 59-56 thriller.

Championship game tip-off
The Czechs came back from a nightmare first quarter when they scored just six points and led in the closing stages but Anna Arkhipova and Irina Ossipova broke their hearts at the end.

Romana Hamzova, a sparkplug guard for the Czech Republic best known for her hardnosed, tenacious approach on defence, hit her third three-pointer of the game with three minutes and 39 seconds left to play for a 56-53 lead.

It was quite a turnaround for the Czechs, who had trailed by 14 points in the second quarter.

But Arkhipova then answered with a long three of her own to tie the game at 56-56 with 2:48 left.

A combination of poor execution by Jan Bobrovsky´s team and solid defending by the Russians then gave the advantage back to the pre-tournament favourites.

The Czechs had the ball and patiently looked for a good shot but couldn´t find the opening they wanted and threw up a wild attempt that was off target.

Russia took the ball to the other end and Olga Artechina launched a long jumper which missed, but Maria Kalmykova grabbed the offensive rebound to keep the ball in their hands with only
1:40 on the clock.

A controversial decision then retained possession for Russia once more.

Russia's Ioulia Skopa
Zuzana Klimesova of the Czechs was attempting to box out Ossipova and fell back.

Greek referee Nikos Papadimitriou blew the whistle and called the foul on Klimesova, drawing an exasperated look from Klimesova and outrage from Bobrovsky on the Czech bench.

Ossipova, when play resumed, then drew a foul and made one of two free throws for a 57-56 advantage.

After the Czechs attacked the other basket and failed to score, Ossipova landed a near fatal blow.

With 0:32 left, the young centre received a pass on the low block and with a magnificent drop step, powered her way up to score for a three-point lead.

After a Czech timeout, captain Hana Machova and Hamzova looked for space to launch a three-pointer but the Russians resisted.

MVP Lucie Blahuskova shoots over Russia's Elena Baranova
Finally, with 15 seconds left in the game, they got the ball to the tournament´s most valuable player Lucie Blahuskova, whom the Russians had masterfully shut down for most of the game.

The power forward fired a three from the top of the key that looked to be on target but it caught iron and cruelly, for the Czechs anyway, rimmed out.

The Czechs battled for the ball, and it stayed in their possession after bouncing out of bounds off a Russian.

Machova went for the quick hit two-pointer on the layup but missed, and a desperation heave from behind the three-point by the Czechs missed.

Russia dribbled the ball in their own half and time expired.

"The Russian team was better in the last two or three minutes," Bobrovsky conceded.

"They have more experienced players. (But) I am satisfied with the silver medal because I believe that the future belongs to my national team.

"We played very hard games in this championship and lost only in the final.

"Maybe if the championships started now, I´d prefer to lose in Pyrgos (Group A) and win in the final."

As they celebrated, Russian coach Vadim Kapranov inexplicably kicked over an advertising board in front of his bench.

Perhaps it had yet to sink in that his women, denied in the European title game two years ago by France and last summer by the United States in the World Championships, had captured the crown.

He regained his composure, after lighting up a cigar, by the time of the press conference.

"It was a very hard European Championship which didn´t start well for us," Kapranov said.

"We lost to Slovakia, and then against Spain. Our quality was very low."

Maria Stepanova celebrates with her young son
But Russia rebounded with a quarter-final victory over France, and then beat Spain in the last four, a side which had been undefeated.

"The final was a long way away for us," Kapranov said. "But game after game, we got better.

"We made a fantastic start in this final.

"The Czechs played very well in the second quarter and forced us to turn the ball over, cutting into our lead.

"But we had the experience to lead in this final.

"I´m very proud of my players becaused they showed strong character and the gold medal is the best message from Russian basketball before the Olympic Games of Athens."

Hamzova led the Czechs with 15 points, including three three-pointers.

She also had four assists and three steals.

Russia got 16 from Ossipova, who was seven of 10 from the field.

She also had four assists and seven rebounds.


28.09.2003 - From Jeff Taylor, PA International, Patras
28.09.2003 - From Jeff Taylor, PA International, Patras

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