EUROBASKET WOMEN QUALIFIERSby Paul Nilsen
|Had a reason to smile after a brilliant opening night performance for Slovenia: Maja Erkic|
Billed as a clash between former and current FIBA Europe Young Player Of The Year Nika Baric and Emma Meesseman, it was the vastly more experienced Maja Erkic who grabbed the headlines as she led Slovenia to a super opening night success against Belgium.
And, according to the sharp shooter who spent last season playing in the EuroLeague Women with Beretta-Famila Schio, there is plenty more to come from Slovenia after they tipped off their EuroBasket Women 2013 qualification campaign with a tense but nevertheless impressive 63-59 success in Brussels.
The Slovenian captain who led the way with an all-action MVP performance of 19 points, five steals and four assists, insisted her team can still turn the defensive screw a little tighter and that could make all the difference to whether they punch their ticket for France next summer.
She said, "We played actually bad defence.
"Belgium broke through with the ball and were well spread on offence but we did not contest enough of those open shots.
"Nevertheless, we managed to fight for victory.
"I think we still have much reserve" added Erkic.
"I hope that will mean this initial nervousness subsiding and that we can correct our mistakes and take a step or two above the level of our game."
Another player who also participated at EuroLeague Women Final Eight and is now lending her valuable experience to the national team is Sandra Pirsic and she helped the team see off a late rally by Belgium who almost dug out a win from the jaws of defeat.
The centre echoed the sentiment of her team-mate and also felt that improvements will need to be made if Slovenia is to make it two wins out of two when they entertain group favourites Lithuania in Kransjka Gora in their next game.
"We started the match very nervously, although at times we were good" explained Pirsic.
"We had a significant advantage and had things in our hands and we should control the course of the outcome, but we dropped concentration in the game as Belgium were approaching.
"But, in the end, we can only consider this as a win and a kind of reward.
"However, we will need to learn from our mistakes and move on for Saturday against Lithuania."
With the first win in the bag, it represents a great opportunity for Slovenia to gather some real momentum and to put themselves in the box-seat since the Lithuania match-up is the first of three successive home games.
After the visitors from Vilnius have departed, Slovenia will host the Netherlands and the Slovak Republic in a particularly critical phase of their qualification programme.
For the record, Nika Baric had a relatively quiet game but will no doubt take the victory over personal glory every time.
As for Emma Meesseman, the Belgian centre finished with a typically productive double-double for Belgium on a bitter sweet night when her disappointment at losing was at least offset slightly by both her individual performance and the pride of being presented with her FIBA Europe Young Player Of The Year Award by FIBA Europe President Olafur Rafnsson.