by Paul Nilsen
Belgium star Emma Meesseman produced arguably the biggest performance of the entire tournament as she helped her team book a semi-final spot against France or Turkey with a 74-60 win over Greece.
It was a truly breathtaking effort that left a beaming Belgium Coach Daniel Goethals in awe of her final line of 19 points, 16 rebounds and 5 blocks - all against Greek star Artemis Spanou.
"I am telling you that was an incredible performance. It was unreal for me as a coach. Yet again I see Emma produce something very special for this team."
"She also did it against one of the best interior players in the tournament in Spanou. She is a dream player to coach and I am so lucky to have a guarantee like with her in every game."
The play-caller was soaked outside of the locker room by his jubilant players with their water bottles and for now he is keen to just live in the moment.
"We need to just enjoy this as a team together. I have put some much of my energy and effort into helping us to get this far that I don't even want to think too much about the semi-finals."
"Qualifying for the World Championships next year with a top five finish has been accomplished now and this was out first target. My whole team did so great today."
Greece did a good job keeping Meesseman off the boards and away from the basket in the early exchanges to enable them to take an 8-4 lead. In fact it briefly looking like Belgium were a little out of sorts until Lien Delmulle drilled a triple five minutes into the game.
|Emma Meesseman (Belgium) Emma Meesseman had another stellar performance and lifted her team to the semi-finals|
That gave them some impetus and when Meesseman beautifully executed a gorgeous pick and roll, she completed the ‘And-1' play to give Belgium the lead. Greek center Artemis Spanou was finding it extraordinarily tough against the slightly taller Meesseman and that spelled trouble for Coach Bakogeorgos.
When Heleen Adams sunk a shot from the corner after some nice ball movement, the Greeks called a time out trailing 15-9 after a nice 11-2 scoring run by their opponents.
The size of the task ahead was certainly underlined to Spanou and her team-mates when she was superbly blocked by Meesseman - one of three she would claim in the first ten minutes.
Just when it looked like after their also start Belgium might get away, Anastasia Slouka nailed a big three with just 30 seconds left. To their agony, Lynn Delvaux then spotted up from downtown and responded with a real dagger shot from the wing.
That helped Belgium maintain their six point cushion at 20-14heading into the second although that advantage came under thereat when they went scoreless for five minutes. Greece began to find more ways to lock down the Belgium stars but they still had no answer to Meesseman. She tore down an offensive rebound and then completed the play with a nice spin move to get her team going again.
Moments later the center then got a hustle putback and it looked ominous for Greece but scores by Grigoria Pateraki and finally Spanou (who couldn't buy a bucket in the first period) caused Goethals to ask for a time out with 4 minutes left before the break
At 24-22 and off the back of some advice from their Coach, Belgium began to look more active and completed the half with seven unanswered points. It was a burst of scoring perfectly rounded off with a three-pointer from Lien Delmulle just ahead of the buzzer.
It was certainly a worry for Greece that Belgium were 9 points ahead despite an ordinary first half performance by Vanloo who walked off court scoreless. That gave Dimitris Bakogeorgos plenty to ponder as he chose to keep his players courtside for the duration of the interval rather than return to the privacy of the locker room
Coach Goethals meanwhile could be happy with a critical 15 point contribution off the bench by Delmulle and Adams. His side opened up the second half of the game by extending their lead to double digits and soon Vanloo also predictably broke her duck with a nice angled jump shot off the glass.
The third quarter highlighted the simple difference in both teams as Belgium used their superior depth and to some extent talent, to keep Greece at arms length. They were 42-28 in front after Vanloo had thrown a three quarter court pass to a grateful Delvaux on the break.
With Greece working desperately hard to get their way into the game, Spanou scored with two sweet back to back post moves and the margin was back to single figures - only for Vanloo to effortlessly bag a three and take her tally to ten points in the period.
Belgium remained firmly in control heading into the last quarter at 51-37 after Sien Devliegher nailed another triple on the buzzer. Greece hit some big shots in the final quarter but each time Belgium simply responded in kind and that made it impossible for the Greek team to come back.
With Meesseman simply awesome, Vanloo coming alive, Delvaux impressive coming in from the wing and most importantly of all, the rest of the Belgium players doing a great job too, Belgium cruised to the semi-finals after yet another hugely enjoyable performance.
While the softly spoken and unassuming Meesseman won her duel with Spanou (even if her Greek counterpart also claimed a terrific 18 points and 14 rebounds), she was almost embarrassed at the prospect of possibly picking up the Tournament MVP award on Sunday.
"This game was only about qualifying for the World Championship for us and this was our extra motivation. We worked so hard as a team and it is not about me because we have so many players and a deep team."
"I would of course swap any MVP award for a medal and hopefully for gold because this is for the team and we are definitely a good team."