By David Hein
Russia captured their second continental championship and booked a spot in the 2008 Olympics by holding off Spain 74-68 in Sunday's final of the 2007 EuroBasket Women, but not before they nearly blew a 21-point lead.
Ilona Korstin led the way for Russia with 18 points while Tatiana Shchegoleva chipped in 14 points off the bench including the decisive lay-up with 13 seconds remaining after Spain had missed a chance to trim the margin to two points 10 seconds earlier.
Amaya Valdemoro led all scorers with 26 points and had eight rebounds and was named
Most Valuable Player of the tournament.
|Valdemoro left it all on the floor and afterwards was consoled by FEB President Jose Luis Saez.|
For the first time ever, the final of both men's and women's EuroBasket events featured the same two teams as, for the second time in a span of three weeks, Russia dashed Spain's hopes of clinching the gold.
"I'm very, very happy. We really wanted to win this game. Everybody told us that we cannot lose this chance. No country won both men and women titles and it was important for us to make history," said Maria Stepanova, who had a subpar game with eight points on 3-of-10 shooting as well as four turnovers despite snatching a game-high 10 rebounds and blocking three shots.
"Spain played very good and gave us a fight but we knew how to win this game."
Russia overcame the burden of being over-whelming favourites to add the 2007 title to their crown in 2003 in Greece, where six of the 2007 Russian players also captured gold.
Igor Grudin's team also won despite 21 turnovers, hitting just 2-of-10 three-pointers and missing nine-of-23 foul shots (61%).
"We just had really big motivation to bring the gold medal back to Moscow," said Olga Arteshina, who was on the Russian team which lost to the Czech Republic in the 2005 final in Turkey.
The victory also gave Russia an automatic berth in next summer's Olympics in Beijing.
"It's just fantastic that we've qualified for the Olympics. It will give us a break during the season," added Stepanova.
Spain meanwhile failed to add the 2007 hardware to their gold in 1993.
Evaristo Perez's team attempted a furious comeback in the second half after struggling to just 4-of-20 shooting from inside the arc and 11 turnovers in the first half, using a two-
three zone defense to get back into the game.
|Korstin led Russia with 18 points and seven rebounds.|
"I knew my team was going to react because they showed in this tournament and in the past that they have heart and pride," said Perez. "Unfortunately, we reacted a little bit too late. We did make Russia work. It's just a pity we did it too laste in the game."
He added: "We knew that we would have to do double our effort to beat Russia. It's very complicated to play against Russia because of our phyiscal size difference. Russia are just a very strong team and are worthy European champions."
Spain were able to snap their streak of three consecutive EuroBasket Women bronzes and will play next summer in the World Olympic Qualifying Tournament for a spot in Beijing.
Both teams started the final a bit nervous and Valdemoro's three-pointer gave Spain an early 3-2 lead after two minutes.
Just as the first game, Russia took advantage of their size while also putting enormous pressure on the Spanish ball-handlers.
Perez's shooters were also being pestered and three baskets by Arteshina helped Russia grab a 14-5 advantage.
Anna Montanana and Elisa Aguila knocked down three-pointers as Spain stayed within 17-12 with two minutes left in the third.
But Stepanova's inside lay-up gave Russia their first 10-point lead of the game, 23-13 after one period.
Spain would turn the ball over six times in the first six minutes of the second quarter and
Russia's cushion bulged to 19 points, 39-20, on Shchegoleva's inside basket at the 3:39 mark and the advantage was up to 21 points when Korstin scored with 40 seconds left for 44-23.
|Maria Stepanova will take her flag and head to Beijing where Russia will play in the Olympics.|
Russia went into the locker-room ahead 44-24.
Spain came out of the break in a zone defense and stymied the Russians, who at one point committed three consecutive travelling violation turnovers.
Grudin's team had seven turnovers in the third quarter alone and three-pointers by Laia Palau and Valdemoro helped the Spain crawl back into the game.
Palau's two foul shots with four seconds left left the Iberians trailing just 53-45 going into the fourth quarter.
Spain maintained their defensive prowess, and four straight turnovers by Russia to start the final period allowed Marta Zurro to close the gap to 53-49 on an offensive rebound and put-back with eight minutes to play.
Three consecutive turnovers by Spain gave Russia the chance to pull ahead 59-49 on Korstin's three-point play with 5:40 left and Irina Osipova's inside basket made it 65-53 with three minutes left.
The Spaniards refused to die and Valdemoro hit two more three-pointers, the second coming with 53 seconds to go, leaving Russia ahead just 69-65.
After a turnover by Svetlana Abrosimova, Valdemoro could have made it a two-point game but her driving lay-up rolled in and out and Shchegoleva beat the stunned Spanish back down the court for a 71-65 lead.
Korstin then made two foul shots to make it a three-possession game, 73-65 with six seconds left.
Palau converted a three-point play before Shchegoleva's final free throw with less than one second left.
Osipova ended the night with 12 points and seven rebounds while Arteshina added 11 points, three rebounds, and two assists.
Palau scored 18 points from Spain while Montanana added 11 points.