Lithuania's Lina Ready For Crunch Time

20.09.2004

By Doug Booth, PA International

In true James Bond fashion, it's Live or Let Die time for the Lithuania women's basketball team.

That's the opinion of captain Lina Brazdeikyte, as Lithuania prepare for the European Championships qualifying match showdown with France on Wednesday night.

The 30-year-old guard knows Lithuania must reverse the 72-60 loss from earlier this month in Paris if her team is to have a chance of winning Group A and thus sealing qualification for the finals in Turkey next September.

The unbeaten French, currently top of the standings with eight points, one more than Lithuania, are on a high and only need to "do the double" over their arch rivals to make certain of a place.

But first they have to dispose of Lithuania, a young, well-drilled squad which, under coach Algirdas Paulauskas, is looking to return to the glory days of 1997 when they

We have done well with him (coach Algirdas Paulauskas) . He can be a good friend or a real beast if you foul up on the court
Lina Brazdeikyte
were crowned European Champions.

Brazdeikyte, a 1.85m guard, remembers it well, although she spent most of the time on the bench, watching and learning.

"Our current team is very different from 1997," the experienced captain, who has spent the past four years playing in France, told PA International.

"The team of '97 had very experienced players and I was there to make up the numbers but it was still great.

"The team did not need to be coached."

Brazdeikyte admits that being in the 1997 squad was a real learning curve and it has provided the foundation for her role in the 2004 group.

Although she admits today's young squad has plenty to do to catch up with the team of seven years ago, the team has plenty of strong points on which to build.

"We have a good defence but when we have the ball we must learn to be more patient.

Sometimes we rush too much," she said.

And coach Paulauskas?

"We have done well with him. He can be a good friend or a real beast if you foul up on the court," she laughed.

Looking to Wednesday night, Brazdeikyte said Lithuania planned to view a video from the 12-point loss to France to work out how to stop the key French players, in particular Edwige Lawson and Emilie Gomis who scored a total of 29 points.

French coach Alain Jardel has moulded together a top team but they are not impregnable, according to Brazdeikyte.

"We also have good players such as Jurgita Streimikyte, who had two years in the WNBA with Indiana and four years in Italy, and our post player, Rima Valentiene, who is a fine shooter," she said.

"We have a nickname for Sandra Valuzyte - The Battering Ram.

"When she drives to the basket she usually runs through the defensive wall and takes them with her."

Even if they lose, Lithuania will have a chance of playing in Turkey. They would need to be one of the two second placed teams with the best record. If there are more than two sides that finish runners-up in a group with identical records, then points scored and allowed comes into the equation.

Brazdeikyte, meanwhile, has a big decision to make after Sunday's final qualifying match against Hungary in Kaposvar.

"I would like to play one more season in France before I return to live in Lithuania permanently," she said.

One thing is certain - she will never play in the US.

"I never wanted to play in the WNBA - the style does not appeal to me," said Brazdeikyte.

"It is more individual, one-on-one, than Europe. There is less team play. I prefer to use all five players on the court."

A qualified physical education instructor, Brazdeikyte loves working with children but she has not ruled out using her degree to coach basketball.

And with basketball legend Arvydas Sabonis about to play his final season in her home town of Kaunas, where he has become the majority shareholder in the local club, don't be surprised if Brazdeikyte does not find a role chez Sabonis in the not-too-distant future.


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