Lithuania held off Russia 63-57 to claim their first ever U18 European Championship for Women.
Aurime Rinkeviciute saved her best for last as she finished with 27 points, eight rebounds and four assists but most importantly made the right plays at the right time down the stretch to lead her team to victory for the eighth and final time.
Marina Solopova added 15 points, five assists and four rebounds and Giedre Paugaite had a double-double
of 11 points and 12 rebounds.
|Anastasiya Shilova led Russia with 14 points to go with four rebounds.|
After the game, assistant coach Dalius Ubartas shared his thoughts on this historical win for Lithuania.
"We started this game very well and led by as many as 14 but Russia's three-point shooting got them back in it. We made some mistakes defensively in the second quarter but we talked to the girls at half time and stressed to them to play our style of play, not to fall in the trap of letting Russia dictate the pace. That is what they did in the second half and it led to victory," he explained.
As for Rinkeviciute's performance, Ubartas was at a loss for words.
"She was fantastic - I don't know what else to tell you! She is definitely a future bright star for women's basketball. She is the leader of our team and showed exactly why throughout this tournament. She is still young and has great potential."
Lithuania took gold in the tournament for the first time ever and Ubartas felt the timing was right for the country's basketball tradition.
"This is a very important win for Lithuania. It sets an example for Lithuania's senior team at the Beijing Olympics. This will be cause for great celebrations when we get back home."
With Russia recovering from a slow start and breathing down Lithuania's neck in the second half, Rinkeviciute made the most important shots down the stretch.
She hit a three-pointer just before the third quarter ended to put Lithuania up by six, 50-44, going into the final period.
The 1.79m guard then converted a three-point play with 4:15 left in the game and all but sealed it with a pair of free-throws just 40 seconds later to give her team an eight-point cushion, 60-52.
Russia came back within four, 61-57, on a pair of free-throws by Anastasia Logunova with 1:32 left in the game, but that is as close as they got the rest of the way.
The game was close early on but Lithunia pulled ahead on a 6-0 run courtesy of Giedre Paugaite and Gabriele Gutkauskaite for a 13-7 lead. The Lithuanians then got their three-point shooting going too as they quickly built a double-digit lead.
Rikiviciute hit three out of her four attempts from beyond the arc in the opening quarter, putting her team up 22-11 on her third made effort with 28 seconds left in the first quarter.
But Olga Shuneykina's girls made a strong push by outscoring their opponents 18-8 over the course of the second quarter to cut most of the deficit as they trailed by just one, 31-30, at the break.
Anastasiya Shilova had a personal run of seven unanswered points to end the first half. With just over two minutes left in the second period, she made a lay up and drew the foul. She missed the free-throw to complete the three-point opportunity, but grabbed her own rebound, was fouled again as she scored once again and this time made good on getting the extra point from the charity stripe.
The 1.84m forward then scored the last basket of the half and Lithuania were without a point in the final 3:25 of the second quarter. After hitting four of their first seven attempts from long range, the Lithuanians made just one of their next eight.
The teams traded baskets early in the second half before Lithuania once again pulled away to lead by seven, 47-40, on Solopova's three pointer with three minutes left in the third quarter.
Logunova cut Russia's deficit to three, 47-44, on a pair of free-throws but Rinkiviciute's three-pointer as time expired in that period gave Lithuania the momentum back.
Shilova finished with 14 points but had to sit out late in the game after picking up an injury.
Russia finished second, their best result since last winning the tournament in 2004.