By Jeff Taylor
Spain’s players are not the biggest at the EuroBasket but they have plenty of heart and that was evident on Saturday when they seized command early on and stormed to 79-64 triumph over Italy in a qualifying round game at the EuroBasket Women in Ortona.
Elisa Aguilar scored a game-high 17 points and Anna Montanana weighed in with 16 as the Spanish won for the fourth consecutive time in the tournament and all but clinched a place in the quarter-finals.
The Azzurre, with a partisan crowd behind them in the Palasport di Ortona, took a quick 7-0 advantage with big center Dubravka Dacic scoring two baskets and Raffaela Masciadri following with a three-pointer.
|It was hard not to feel like cheering if you were part of the Spanish team.|
But Laia Palau, who has enjoyed so many good games for Spain in recent years, then jump-started her teammates.
Closely guarded and with a hand in her face, the veteran nailed a shot from behind the arc and sparked a 16-0 run that Italy never recovered from.
Montanana, leading the fast-break all afternoon for Spain, had six of her points in that early run.
“We came out really focused,” said Montanana, who has been one of Spain’s most consistent performers in this tournament.
“We knew this was an important game for us and we had to win it as it was the easiest game we would face in this round.
“We’ve played a really good game and this will obviously allow us to go into our next games against France and Russia with less pressure.”
Francesca Zara stopped the rot with a layup to make it 16-9, but the excellent Aguilar drove in uncontested for a lay-up to make it 18-9.
A Masciadri three-ball closed the gap to 32-26 midway through the second quarter, and after an Isabel Sanchez jumper from the left made it 34-26, Zara pulled up at the top of the key and cut the deficit to 34-28 with 4:28 to go in the first half.
Spain finished the half on a 13-4 run, though, capped by Aguilar’s three-pointer near the end for a 47-32 half-time lead.
Italy got no closer than 12 points in the second half.
"Spain were better today,” admitted Italy’s Kathrin Ress.
“We started strong, but then we lost focus and when you do that against a strong team like Spain, you pay for it. We allowed them to run and they took advantage of it."
Spain were terrific shooting the ball, making nine of 21 (42.9%) from long range and 19 of 37 (51.4%) inside the arc.
They also won the battle of the boards, out-rebounding Italy 31-28.
The Italians have had success in this tournament in large part because of their defense, but the Spanish were far better in that category as well, forcing their opponents into 18 turnovers while committing a tournament-low nine themselves.
Sanchez, Lucila Pascua, Aguilar and Amaya Valdemoro each had two of Spain’s 10 steals.
“We played a great game, especially on defense,” Palau said. “If we play this way for the rest of the tournament, it will be really hard for any team to beat us.”
Spain coach Evaristo Perez, who is coaching in his first EuroBasket, said: “Our defense has shown itself already, but today we wanted to play better offensively and we did. Our players were very concentrated for the whole match and it showed.
Italy got a team-high 16 points from Masciadri, but she gave credit to the Spanish.
“They played great defense against us today,” she said. “We started well, but then we lost our concentration. In the third quarter, their defense was too much.”
Italy coach Gianni Lambruschi has had some fine moments in this EuroBasket with his team pushing Russia to the end in their opener and then beating Greece before falling to France.
Defense had been his team’s biggest weapon, but he admitted after the setback to Spain: “We played really bad defense in the second quarter. We were able to get ahead early and then Spain woke up and picked up their defense.
“The defense was too much for us. Spain’s experience was too much for us. Our problem in this championship is that we don’t have the experience.”