by Paul Nilsen
Olivia Epopua proved to be the match winner for France after hitting the game winning shot for her team as they fought back from 16 points against Greece to rack up yet another victory.
While they finally managed to overhaul the Greeks for a 59-54 success after a stunning 20-8 last quarter, it was a close run thing with 14 points but particularly 6 steals from Epoupa absolutely critical.
She joked after the final buzzer that things might have been different had she not made the shot and also underlined that the team had answered the wish of Coach Arnaud Guppillotte to prove they can win a game down the stretch if the opportunity arose.
"I did not really know what was going through my mind when I took the jump shot near to the end. I was surprised it went in!"
"The defence was the most important thing for us after a bad start."
"Our coach wanted us to win a close game and we did that."
The coach himself meanwhile praised the defence of Epoupa whose speed was demonstrably the difference in the game as Greece tired in the last few minutes.
"We have two ways of playing and the one that has Olivia on the court means we have the ability to play more defence and to pressure the ball."
"She proved today how important she is for us."
After an unconvincing win against Poland, Coach Bakogeorgos said his Greek team would play better against France, particularly offensively, and after a stunning first quarter, that objective had already been fulfilled.
The Greeks raced into a 19-6 lead against one of the tournament favourites. They finally made their shots both inside and out, something they had previously struggled to do while taking extreme care of the ball despite the French defence.
They also managed to put pressure on the French ball handlers and the likes of center Artemis Spanou was able to match up with Christelle Diallo in a real battle of the giants.
Predictably Greece couldn't sustain their shooting percentages and France ominously edged their way back into the game. Coach Guppillotte claimed he was looking forward to the first major test for his team and Greece were certainly giving him them one.
|Olivia Epoupa put up an impressing stat line with 14 pts, 6 stls and 6 rbs in only 18 minutes|
The quickness of guard Olivia Epoupa began to trouble the Greeks and she managed to get to the hoop plenty of times, unlike in the opening ten minutes. That helped her draw fouls from the Greek defence and she produced seven points as France got to within 34-27 at the interval.
Neither team could really find the will nor the way to make a definitive run in the third period with Anthoula Chatzigiakoumi the pick of the players with 6 points in the quarter. While there was undoubtedly a lot of effort, quality was in short supply with the margin still seven points at 46-39 heading into the last ten minutes.
Sara Chevaugeon had the French bench on their feet in appreciation and expectation when she sunk a three to make it 46-42. By midway through the period, Coach Guppillotte called a time-out with his team 50-42 behind and looking for a lift.
They got it through their superior quickness and defence which helped them establish a 10-0 run to take the lead at 52-50. Getting to the hoop and pressuring the Greeks on defence, the tide looked to have changed.
However Anastasia Slouka made a tough jumper to ensure the game was level going into the last 90 seconds. That was still the case into the last minute until Cornelie got a cheap put back of a missed shot by Diallo.
Greece then shot an air-ball next time down and it was left to Olivia Epoupa to hit what proved to be the game winning shot with 14 seconds left - a beautiful jumper under pressure to keep the French unbeaten record firmly intact.