by Paul Nilsen
Serbia coach Zoran Kovacevic was understandably bursting with pride after his team inflicted a thrilling 59-56 win over reigning champions Spain in one of the best games of the tournament to date.
Trailing for most of the game, Serbia showed great heart with aggression at both ends of the floor to complete something of a mini-shock and after the final buzzer he highlighted the importance for Serbian basketball of such a success.
"When we can take a win against teams like Spain or France it is a big victory for our nation because we are only a small country."
"We are very happy not just because of the win but also because we now have 2 points and a good opportunity ahead in our next two games to progress after this result."
"Every game against Spain is very tough and finally we stopped the mistakes that we made against Turkey and Italy and we saw the final result."
"We played our game and that worked for us to get the victory."
"Defensively our game was about trying to take away the options of the Spanish offence with our defence and to stop their scoring."
"That was always our objective. We had to be good on defensive rebounds and stop second chance scoring which we did very well."
Serbia might have finally cracked in their absorbing game with Italy the last time they took to the floor but after a quality first quarter it was clear it had done little to affect their confidence.
Standing toe-to-toe with the team strongly fancied to retain their title, they shrugged off an 0-4 start to the game and once they opened their account they grew in confidence and finished the period with a 5-0 burst to take a surprise 17-15 lead.
Much of that was down to a lot of hustle, something Serbia certainly don't lack but in the second quarter, the superior class of the Spanish team suddenly began to shine through. A 9-0 shutout put the Spanish team 24-17 ahead and Andrea Vilaro was the player stepping up for Spain.
She secured 7 points shortly before the interval and by half time, Spain were in control at 38-30. Then, within ninety seconds of the re-start, Spain had their first double-figure lead of the game through Carla Rodriguez and things that had looked so bright at the end of the opening period suddenly looked bleak.
That was until Serbia began a mini revival. Trailing 43-35, they narrowed slightly to 48-43 going into the final ten minutes and visibly stepped up their defensive efforts, particularly at the top of the key.
That pressure on the Spanish ball handlers paid dividends with a nice steal from point guard Aleksandra Stanacev. Suddenly Spain were shooting tough jump shots and were knocked out of their rhythm and fouling needlessly.
Only poor free-throw shooting by the Serbs stopped them getting ahead and it proved to be a great test for the Spanish who could not get to the hoop or move the ball around freely as they had done for most of the game.
Serbia got to within one point at 48-47 and the result hung in the balance in what was another great advertisement for the tournament. It was relentless with neither team giving the other a second on the ball.
Andrea Vilaro drilled a triple with four minutes remaining to put hr country 55-51 in front but yet once more Serbia hit right back, Jelena Stulic making a three.
With 90 seconds left in the game it was tied up at 56-56after a terrific baseline move by Dijana Stancic before team-mate Natasa Kovacevic curved her way to the hoop with a great lay up going high off the glass.
With 48 seconds left Serbia were finally in the lead and the Spanish team were on the ropes for the first time in the tournament.
Next time down Serbia played more tenacious defence and as Spain patiently tried to ork an opening they were eventually forced into taking a failed jump shot as the 24 seconds expired.
This meant Spain had to foul with 15 seconds left and Kovacevic made one free throw to give Spain the opportunity to tie the game and force overtime.
A final dose of great defence forced Inmaculada Zanogura into a double dribble to force wild Serbian celebrations as the final buzzer sounded.