PA International, Patras
Spain go into their do-or-die clash with Serbia & Montenegro on Friday brimming with confidence and fully expecting to ascend the medal podium at the European Championships.
The fast-breaking Spaniards haven't slowed down for anyone in Greece and that included pre-tournament favourites Russia, who became their fifth Group B victim on Wednesday.
Even in their half-court offence, Spain seem to be going at 100 miles per hour with their drives to the basket.
In particular, Amaya Valdemoro has beaten defenders off the dribble with so much ease that she seems almost to be unstoppable.
Coach Vicente Rodriguez, whose team took bronze two years ago in France, presides over only one of two unbeaten sides with the Czech Republic the other, but he concedes that the hard part is only just beginning.
Spain's mental strength, though, is why he says they can go all the way and capture the title.
“Our confidence has been so far our key," he said. "I have a team that knows that when they do things well, few teams can defeat them.
"We are aware that if we play to our best form we can take out any rival so who we play is not important.
"We depend on our form to fight for the medals and we will try to achieve this with all our strength."
Valdemoro has gotten most of the attention at these championships but by no means are Spain a one-player act.
Captain Betty Cebrian, their veteran centre, has provided a strong low post option on offence and has been strong on the defensive end, using her strength to keep her opponents from receiving passes close to the basket.
Players like Ingrid Pons and Laia Palau have thrived in transition and scored the type of easy baskets that a necessary to beat sides like Russia.
And sharpshooter Rosi Sanchez showed against Russia that Spain have depth. She hit two crucial three-pointers in that Spanish victory.
But there is no question that her self belief, and the team's, is due in large part to Valdemoro.
She plays professionally in Valencia but has had the good fortune of playing for the Houston Comets and won WNBA titles.
Valdemoro is not a playmaking point guard, but the ball usually ends up in her hands first in half-court sets.
Spain's approach, in fact, bares a resemblance to the Chicago Bulls sides of the nineties. Just as Michael Jordan was often given the ball on the perimeter in the half-court offence, Spain give control to Valdemoro.
She then has the option to take on her opponent and drive into the lane to shoot, or draw a double team and pass to an open team-mate.
If a player sags for fear of getting beat on the dribble, then Valdemoro has proved she is perfectly capable of making a long-range shot.
Valdemoro is familiar with Serbia & Montenegro, who have not been in top form here in Greece, from past encounters.
“We will have to be particularly careful with point guard Gordana (Grubin) as she guides, assists the team and scores the crucial points," Valdemoro said.
Grubin has averaged 14.2 points a game so far, but she came up big in a win over France with 17 points and also stood tall against the unbeaten Czech Republic with 19 points.
|Grubin against the Czech Republic|
“We will have to put pressure on the rest of the players because Serbia have an experienced team. We beat them last year at the World Championships in China and that is why we know that they are a difficult side to beat.
“If we win against Serbia we will face France or Russia but we have to be calm and focus.”