From Jeff Taylor, PA International, Patras
Lucie Blahuskova and the Czech Republic have enjoyed many a fine moment at these European Championships but none can so far match Saturday´s Herculean effort against Poland.
|Lucie Blahuskova scored 34 points and grabbed 10 rebounds|
The Czechs, unbeaten and easily the most dominant team of the tournament with six successive wins, trailed until four minutes and 45 seconds remained in the third quarter but finally got their noses in front of the Poles and went on to claim a 74-66 triumph.
Blahuskova, the points-scoring machine who has been relentless in Greece, virtually carried the Czech Republic on her back in the first half and gave them a chance to make history.
This team is the first since the Velvet Revolution to reach the Olympics - Czechoslovakia played in Barcelona - and they will be able to travel to Athens as European champions if they can beat either Russia or Spain in Sunday´s final.
"It was a performance from the heart," Milos Prazak, the general secretary of the Czech Basketball Federation told PA International immediately after the game while the players danced on court.
"It´s important for us because it helps us promote basketball, and it means money and maybe TV.
"All the work of the last years, from the team and the federation, it was all targeted for this tournament and now it has paid off."
It is hard to imagine a player doing anything more than Blahuskova, who scored 34 points - 20 in the first half when her country needed it most.
The Czechs, perhaps the exertions from recent games catching up with them, struggled early on but Blahuskova was there to save the day and scored 14 of the Czechs first 16 points.
They trailed 21-16 after the first period.
In the second quarter, it was more of the same.
The Poles scored the first four points on a jumpshot from Margo Dydek and a drive from Agnieszka Bibrzyscka, but Blahuskova answered with a reverse layup.
|The Czech team celebrating|
With 6:25 left in the second quarter and the Poles leading 28-20, she struck again with a baseline jumper.
Her jumpshot from the free throw line tied the game at 28-28, but Poland outscored the Czechs 12-7 and led 40-35 at the half.
In the end, it was another Czech, Jana Vesela, who gave them the advantage for good at 54-51 with 38 seconds remaining in the third quarter with a three-pointer.
Then Blahuskova, after Bibrzyscka ill-advisedly rushed a shot in transition instead of playing for the last shot of the third quarter, scored on an ally-oop pass from captain Hana Machova for a 56-51 advantage.
Just 10 minutes remained.
The Poles hung around, but the Czechs held on in convincing style.
Jan Bobrovsky´s team forced the Poles into 19 turnovers.
Dydek led Poland, who will now play for the bronze medal which can also secure an Olympic place, with 22 points.
Czech star Michaela Pavlickova said: "We´ve never done this well but we´re just playing well as a team and Blahuskova is just a great player."