Defending champions Spain not only avoided missing out on the semi-finals of the Termosteps U16 European Championship Women, but they grabbed top honours in Group F with a 77-63 victory over France.
Facing a must-win to reach the Saturday semis in Valmiera, Leonor Rodriguez Manso scored 20 points and Vega Gimeno Martinez added 19 points, five rebounds, three assists and five steals as Spain improved to 4-1 in the group.
"The game was intense, and we needed this game to prove that we had the character and the guts to qualify. We needed to prove that we are one of the top teams of this competition," said Spanish coach Jose I. Hernandez Fraile.
|Spanish coach Jose I. Hernandez Fraile believes that the win is a psychological boost for his team|
"I am really, really proud. Even more that we were able to keep our heads up after a difficult loss (63-60 to Russia) yesterday."
Spain, France and Russia all finished even at 4-1 in Group F with the French also advancing to the semis despite their first loss of the competition. France would have finished first in the group had they lost by 10 points or fewer.
French coach Gregory Halin said he had mixed emotions about the result - disappointment not having won the group but joy in reaching the semi-finals.
"A little of both. I tried to play the game to win it. I don't like calculations. I'm disappointed with the result because we didn't have a good game, especially in the second half," he said.
"But the main thing was to qualify, and we are. We have to think of this first. I'm disappointed only because I don't like to lose."
The game was back and forth in the early going and saw its first change when Cristina Pedrals Barrios came of the bench and sparked a 9-2 Spain run to pull ahead 21-13 after one period.
Spain upped the advantage to 10 points in the second quarter but the French closed the half on an 11-4 run to trail just 35-34 at the break.
Tchatchouang and Helena Yasmina Akmouche drained three-pointers as France opened a 42-37 lead early in the second half. But the tough Spanish defence caused turnovers on six straight possessions and went on a 14-0 run to pull ahead 53-44 with three minutes left in the third.
And a 17-4 spurt spanning the third and fourth periods opened a 70-50 gap with 5:50 remaining and the result was clear - only first and second place were to be decided.
Akmouche made one of two free throws with 28 seconds to trim the deficit to 75-63 and Rodriquez Manso's lay-up with 4.9 secured Spain the top spot.
Allison Vernerey led France with 14 points and 10 rebounds while Diandra Tchatchouang added 10 points, six rebounds, four assists and four blocks.