From Jeff Taylor, PA International, Patras
Never count out the Spanish women.
|Nuria Martinez scored 14 points in just 15 minutes|
Spain stormed back from a 17-point deficit in the final quarter on Sunday to stun Poland in the bronze medal game of the European Championships and qualify for the Olympics for the first time in their history.
In a country where Pau Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies has raised the game of basketball to new heights, it is a 87-81 triumph over Poland by Vicente Rodriguez´s fighters which is the cause of celebration now.
Fiestas will no doubt be going on in Madrid and throughout the rest of Spain after this victory.
Poland, who played in the last Olympics, must now go back to the drawing board.
Two games in a row, against the Czechs in the semi-finals and now the Spaniards, they have led for much of the contest but lost.
Amaya Valdemoro, who shone through most of the tournament but struggled in Saturday´s defeat to Russia and Sunday´s win, told PA International: "I thought we had a great tournament. This team, we have a lot of talent and a lot of heart.
"We had players who hadn´t played much this tournament and came out here and gave us a tremendous lift tonight.
|The Spanish bench celebrating after the final buzzer|
"Our objective before the championships was to qualify for the Olympics, and that is what we have done."
As the players celebrated, most cried.
All shared a look of relief.
It is amazing that Poland lost this game.
Agniesyka Bibrzyscka led five Poles in double figures with 19 points.
Margo Dydek, the 2.13 metre centre, had 11 points, 21 rebounds and three blocked shots.
Tomasz Herkt´s team scored the game´s first six points and led 15-6 after a pair of Dydek free throws.
They would streak away at the end of the first quarter, going on a 10-0 run for a 29-14 advantage.
Bibrzyscka came up with a steal and scored on a fast break, and then hit a three-pointer at
The lead ballooned to 34-14 when she added another three 45 seconds into the second quarter and two free throws 35 seconds later.
Spain tried to play catch-up, but against the Poland two-three zone a team has to make their jumpshots and Spain were missing theirs.
Sylwia´s two shots from the line - Poland made 25 of 28 on the night - gave them a 49-35 halftime advantage.
|Malgorzata Dydek had 11 points and 21 rebounds|
Rodriguez made two key substitutions in the second half to keep his side in the game.
He elected to sit down Valdemoro and Laia Palau, and bring in Marta Fernandez who scored 12 points on many a slashing move to the basket. Nuria Martinez was also inserted and made a three-pointer, and one of two from the line.
Spain hurt themselves from the line on the night badly, however, converted just 14 of 23.
Poland led 71-56 after closing the quarter with four free throws.
That went to 17 when Joanna Cuprys grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on the put back at the start of the fourth.
But Spain went on a sensational run.
Fernandez scored five points - one a three-pointer - as her side scored nine straight points.
Dydek hauled down an offensive board and scored for a 75-65 lead, but the Spaniards then got three-pointers from Valdemoro, who had replaced Fernandez, and Rosi Sanchez.
Poland added a bucket for a 77-71 lead, but Martinez scored on a drive.
Bibrzyscka answered at the other end with a drive but Valdemoro went strong to the basket to cut the lead to 79-75.
Martinez then buried a three-pointer with 2:50 left in the game.
After a Poland miss, Martinez was fouled and made one of two from the line to level the scores at 79-79.
Renata Piestrzynska, who scored 10 big points off the bench, gave Poland their final lead at 81-79 on a drive to the hoop with 1:35 left but Martinez went to the other end and made a layup in traffic to tie the game.
A timeout was called with 1:16 to go and on Spain´s next possession, Fernandez, clearly the star of the game who had come back on court, made a jump shot for Spain´s first lead
at the 1:10 mark.
Bibrzyscka missed a three-pointer, and Palau, who had come on late, was fouled near the end with the shot clock and game clock winding down.
She made both free throws as Spain sealed a memorable win.
Spain´s Laura Camps said: "It looked impossible but we didn´t give up.
"This is just like winning the title."
Fernandez, who came off the bench, led Spain with 19 points on nine of 19 shooting.
Palau had 18 points while Valdemoro and Sanchez each poured in 15 and Martinez added 14.
Sanchez, a deadly three-point shooter, was a perfect six of six, including three three-pointers.