By Cindy Garcia-BennettSpain had to work hard but they finally put away Croatia 63-52 on Wednesday night to complete a perfect Group D campaign and reach the next phase of the EuroBasket with winning momentum.
Amaya Valdemoro had a game-high 15 points and 11 rebounds for Spain, who will take on Italy in their first qualifying round game.
Croatia threatened to spring an upset after taking a 50-46 lead early in the fourth quarter but Spain went on a 17-2 run to finish the game with Marta Zurro, Laura Camps and Isabel Sanchez accounting for all of the points in that game-ending surge.
"We knew Croatia would play for pride having lost their previous two games," said Anna Montanana, who added 12 points for the victors.
"They really made us work but in the end we kept our focus, played strong defense and we got the win.
"This win will give us a big morale boost for our next game against hosts Italy."
Montanana scored eight points while Valdemoro pulled down eight rebounds as Spain built a 14-9 lead by the end of the first quarter.
Veteran center Sonja Kireta scored her team's next seven points to tie the game at 16-16 early in the second quarter before Lucila Pascua replied with four straight points to keep the Spaniards in front.
Emilija Podrug's consecutive layups gave Croatia a 25-22 lead with less than two minutes to go in the half.
However, Spain went on a 9-2 run, with Valdemoro scoring five points in that burst, to go into the break with a 29-27 lead.
Neither team was able to pull away as they exchanged the lead over and over and went into the final period level at 46-46.
Spain, who outrebounded Croatia 52-37, did enough in the end to prevail.