From Jeff Taylor, PA International, Patras
Pre-tournament favourites Russia ended Spain´s dream run at the European Championships on Saturday night to reach the final - and qualify for the Olympics.
Riding the hot hands of Olga Artechina and Elena Baranova, who repeatedly hurt the Spanish with three-point shots at crucial times, Vadim Kapranov´s troops returned to a title game for the third year running.
They lost to France two years ago with the European crown on the line, and then went down to the United States in last summer´s World Championships.
They will have it all to do against the Czech Republic on Sunday, a determined group of women who have yet to lose.
They came from behind to beat Poland in the other semi-final.
"The Czech Republic had a hard game against Poland but they have enough power to play against us tomorrow," Kapranov said.
Spain had been the side whose efforts seemed to be fuelled by emotion here in Greece and sadly for them for the first time, the tank seemed to be empty.
They expended a lot of energy to come from behind and beat Serbia & Montenegro on Friday.
Against the Russians, Spain appeared to be too concerned with refereeing decisions not going their way.
Russia seized control early and led 25-12 in the first quarter.
Five Spanish turnovers helped their cause, as did Ioulia Skopa´s 10 points and five from Baranova.
It got worse in the second quarter.
A Skopa drive with 5:20 remaining gave Russia their biggest lead at 34-17. But they were unable to hold on to their lead.
"This was our seventh game and our playmaker (Anna) Arkhipova was tired," Kapranov said, "so we couldn´t play our normal offence and maintain our advantage."
That must have helped as Spain started to make like Lazarus and rise from the dead.
A drive and two free throws from Amaya Valdemoro cut the deficit to 13.
A Skopa basket after driving baseline stretched it back to 15, but Valdemoro struck again with another determined run into the lane and scored.
The sides exchanged points until it was 40-25 with 2:20 remaining until half-time.
Spain went on a 10-0 run before the intermission, with unheralded Begonia Garcia of Spanish club side Donostia in the Basque region, scoring the last seven points.
She buried a three-pointer at the 1:15 mark, and then banked the ball in on successive fastbreaks - the second of which dropped through the net just before the buzzer sounded.
Spain, who had looked out of it, suddenly had new cause for self belief as Russia´s lead had been trimmed to 40-35.
Laia Palau continued the run after half-time, spinning into the lane and making a jumper from eight feet.
A couple of Ingrid Pons free throws then cut the Russians´advantage to just one at 40-39.
Irina Ossipova scored from close in to make it 42-39, but Betty Cebrian answered after receiving pass from Valdemoro with 8:10 left.
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The Spanish run ended.
Skopa´s drive, and then an Artechina three-pointer made it 47-41 with 6:50 to play.
Valdemoro tried to take over, but when she attacked the basket, Baranova swatted her shot away and Arkhipova gained possession.
She was fouled and made two free throws for a 49-41 advantage.´
The closest Spain would get after that was four points when Rosi Sanchez´s three with 4:20 remaining in the game cut the lead to 71-67.
Artechina made her fourth three-pointer of the game with 3:40 on the clock for a 74-67 lead.
Spain kept it close but couldn´t break them down.
Now they have to beat Poland in the bronze medal game or else their Olympic dreams will have been dashed.