From Jeff Taylor, PA International, Patras
Margo Dydek is one of the most famous basketball players in the world and she showed why in Friday´s quarter-final showdown against Slovakia.
|Poland is the first team to reach the Semi-Finals|
Dydek, the Poland national team centre who towers above most women, and men at more than seven feet tall (2.13 metres), turned in a virtuoso performance with 19 points, 18 rebounds, four assists and two blocks to lead her side to a 78-61 triumph over the upset-minded Slovaks.
Her efforts in Group A were not outstanding as the Poles finished third behind the Czech Republic and France but she made the key plays as her side moved within one victory of a medal - and a place in the Olympics.
Poland coach Tomasz Herkt told PA International immediately after the game: "She hadn´t played that well in the earlier games but with Margo that is okay because she always plays well when it matters."
It mattered on two big occasions in this game.
In the second quarter, Zuzana Zirkova´s third basket in a row had trimmed Poland´s advantage, which had been eight points with a minute and a half in the opening quarter, to just one (23-22) with 7:30 remaining in the half.
Dydek went to the other end and provided the assist for Elzbieta Trzesniewska who scored on a drive to the bucket.
Not long after, Dydek received a pass on the baseline and, unguarded, scored from 10 feet.
She was then fouled with four minutes to go in the half and made two free throws for a 29-22 lead.
Dydek, who missed much of Poland´s preparations while she finished the WNBA season with the San Antonio Stars, completed her first demolition of the Slovaks with a turnaround jumper to stretch the lead to 31-22.
The Slovaks, having been steamrollered by Dydek, looked stunned and the Poles, looking to deliver the knockout punch, almost did just that.
Joanna Cuprys, who had 16 points in the game, buried a three-pointer from the corner and then point guard Szlwia Wlazlak drained two threes of her own for a 40-22 advantage.
Dydek made one of two free throws just before time expired for a commanding 41-22 lead. Dydek had seven points, nine rebounds, four assists and a single block at the halfway mark.
The Slovaks were never able to truly recover, although they didn´t roll over.
Andrea Belanska made one of her four three-pointers with 3:30 to play in the third quarter to trim the deficit to nine at 44-35, but Agnieszka Bibrzyscka made two shot from the foul line, and Dydek then chipped in with two of her own.
The giant centre then blocked Belanska who attempted to score on a drive, and went to the other end to score on a drive of her own.
Belanska made a three-pointer to cut the deficit back to 50-38, but Dydek answered yet again with 1:05 left, grabbing an offensive rebound and scoring on a put-back for a 52-38 advantage.
In the fourth quarter, a Zirkova three would close the deficit to 55-45 but Dydek again responded with a field goal.
Belanska sank another from long range, but Poland got the ball right back into Dydek´s hands and she scored.
Slovakia battled but the Poles always resisted.
"We are just going to take it one game at a time," Dydek said. "We came here to qualify for the Olympics and now we are very close."
And Dydek then showed how high her own standards are by saying she wasn´t entirely happy with her own performance.
"The intensity is more here than in the WNBA because we are playing so many games. I don´t have a weight room and maybe that is affecting my shooting on my free throws."
She was seven of 11 from the line but in the grand scheme of things, Dydek, and Poland did everything they needed to do on this occasion.
Now Poland expect to face the Czech Republic, who were big favourites against Belgium in their quarter-final.
"That was the best game we have plazed so far," Herkt said.
And Dydek agrees that Poland might finish on top if they meet again.
"We only lost by four or five poinits against the Czechs," she said. "I think we can come back and do it next time."