by Paul Nilsen
In a fitting finale to a superb tournament, reigning champions Spain edged out Belgium 57-53 to secure back to back gold medals as Naples was treated to another incredible overtime thriller.
Andrea Vilaro showed why she made the All Tournament Team with another stellar display as she claimed a superb double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds.
It was a real roller-coaster of emotion for both teams and also the neutrals who showed their considerable appreciation during the presentations of an excellent climax to the championships.
|Tournament MVP Emma Meesseman put up another double double to wrap up an impressive tournament|
Another All Tournament team player Julie Vanloo took the honour of scoring the first points of the Final for Belgium and fittingly, it was Andrea Vilaro who made the first Spanish score of the game.
Shortly afterwards, Celine Henry produced one of the best plays of the game with a sweet baseline drive and reverse lay-up to keep Belgium in front.
That was quickly followed up by a lay-up by Lynn Delvaux, continuing her good form from yesterdays semi-final and Spain were looking for some offence and they found it yet again in the form of Vilaro.
At the midway point of the opening period there looked to be few nerves from either players in a really enjoyable start to the game. It flowed beautifully, both teams showing the kind of ball movement and plays that epitomised their approach to the tournament.
However both defences picked up during the next five minutes and each side managed to force the other into 24 second shot clock violations.
With one minute to go in the first, Vanloo incurred the wrath of her coach when she gave up an easy pass for a standard assist, instead choosing to go behind her back which meant the opportunity was lost.
It handed Spain the opportunity to level the scores and it was one that they gratefully accepted as Inmaculada Zanoguera got to the hoop to round off the scoring for the opening quarter and leave the game nicely poised at 12-12.
Belgium kept Spain scoreless in the early exchanges of the second quarter and the Spanish team found it hard to match up inside with Meesseman as she claimed an ‘And-1' play to put her team 17-12 in front.
After what seemed like an eternity, guard Elena De Alfredo finally penetrated the defence and pulled up for a nice jump shot to finally end their mini drought. However Belgium always had the edge, with Delmulle coming off the bench to pick up a nice score under the hoop.
Both teams were struggling to get anything going outside, or at least that was until Vanloo buried a triple to extend her teams advantage to 22-16 with just over two minutes to go until the interval.
Thirty seconds later the class of Vilaro shone through as she also converted from downtown to halve the deficit and move to 11 points in the half. Spain then edged to within one point from the foul line as Zanoguera made two from two.
|Andrea Vilaró was leading the way for Spain with 15 pts and 11 rbs|
With twenty seconds left on the clock, Yurena Diaz stepped back and completed a 7-0 run for Spain with a deep three-pointer enabling her team to leave the court 24-22 in front at the interval.
Spain continued to be the team very much in the ascendancy. They seemed to have more energy and they proved that with a vibrant start to the second half with an 8-0 run to open up a healthy lead.
At 32-24 Spain had held Belgium to just one score in almost six minutes and the Belgian team were beginning to look really tired. They were getting out rebounded and out-hustled.
However they dug deep and when still trailing by eight points, Heleen Adams made a big shot from downtown. It was one that re-vitalised her team and a minute inside the final quarter after a Vanloo basket it was a one shot game again at 36-33.
Just when it looked like Belgium were on a roll and ready to make their move, Diaz stepped up to drill a triple. Seconds later Itziar Llobet dished off a superb assist to Silvia Marcelo who had made a nice baseline cut and the game began to ebb slowly away from Belgium.
It was 42-33 with five minutes left and the destination of the gold medal looked to be heading in only one direction. Everybody in the Arena was wondering if Belgium could find one last push but when Adams missed an open lay-up in transition it looked unlikely.
Vanloo made a tough jumper with less than three minutes to go to narrow the margin to five points but her counterpart De Alfredo made a similar shot down the other end. Never to be overshadowed, Vanloo then drained a trey and it was 44-40 with just over 90 seconds to go.
The crowd then erupted in delight as Belgium got a stop and on offence worked hard to get the ball in the hands of their star guard once more. They certainly did and there was a palpable and collective intke of breath as she launched the ball towards the hoop once more.
Yet again it dropped and Belgium were suddenly on the verge of a stunning and unlikely comeback at 44-43.
De Alfredo made a free throw with just over 40 seconds left and Belgium went down the floor looking to tie or take the lead. It was thrilling stuff and when Meesseman was fouled, she went to the line but could only make one.
Inexplicably with her team only one point behind and thirty seconds on the clock, Vanloo turned from potential hero to villain as she grabbed Andrea Vilaro to incur an unsportsmanlike foul.
It looked bleak but Vilaro could only make one from the line muchto the visible relief of Vanloo and on the resulting possession, Spain missed a shot, grabbed the rebound but turned it over.
That gave Vanloo the chance of redemption and she took it as she dished up a pass to Heleen Adams who showed incredible coolness to stop in mid stride avoiding the foul and make the shot off the glass with under two seconds left.
If Spain needed a player to re-establish their momentum in the game, then there was only one name and that was Vilaro. She buried a three-pointer but crucially Carla Rodriguez, the Spanish player tasked with shackling Meesseman fouled out.
Belgium took advantage and after two free throws by Meeseman and another big score from Adams, they were 50-49 ahead. It lasted only seconds as Marcelo made a lay-up and then Zanoguera made a big hustle play in the paint to put Spain 53-50 in front with 2 minutes left.
Vanloo then went to the line for one of two and when De Alfredo made a super shot off the dribble, it broke the game open with a just over sixty seconds left. Belgium were left chasing the game and Spain sealed a fine win and successive gold medals from the free-throw line.
Spanish Coach, Jose Hernandez
"This game and gold medal was all about our defence. We worked very hard in the whole game on our defence and this is why we were able to win."
"Overtime was our gift to Belgium because we had the game under control. We made too many mistakes and when we went to overtime I was starting to think seriously about us maybe losing the game."
"With one more year until the U17 World Championships there will be a lot of work to do.We hope that the Federation keeps working with the girls."
"After this we are of course hopeful for those Championships but we don't know and we will have to wait and see."
Belgium Coach, Daniel Goethals
"My girls never give up - never. They have reached the first final for Belgium and have taken the champions Spain to overtime."
"I thought we were strong for the whole of the game even if we were a little tired but that was to be expected."
"We did not shoot the ball very well today and that was the big difference in the game and why we didn't get the gold."
"As for Emma (Meesseman) getting the MVP I can't describe how that feels because I was so hoping she would get it."
"Sometimes only the flashy players end up with awards but she is someone who is special because of how hard she works and what she brings to the team."
"Honestly, she is absolutely incredible. She has got nearly a double-double in every game and especially the big games. How can you ever ask for any more from a player?"
"I just hope that she now enjoys it but I am not sure she likes all of the attention as she is so quiet!"
Tournament MVP, Emma Meesseman
"It is really great to get a sliver medal and to have won so many games in a row. I am so proud of everyone in the team."
"It is great to win the MVP award because there are so many great players in this tournament."
"Even just in my own team there are players like Julie (Vanloo) so it shows a high level."
"This is special of course and I am very, very happy."