Spain Stay Perfect, Defeat Hosts In Valdemoro Return
Spain sent out a loud message about their gold-medal aspirations by beating EuroBasket Women hosts Latvia 67-60 in a breathtaking encounter at the Arena Riga.
Just 48 hours after 6,000 fans watched Slovakia upset their team, a crowd of 7,900 looked on as Spain won on Monday night to clinch first place in Group E.
Narrowly denied gold by Russia two years ago at the EuroBasket Women in Italy, the Spanish are undefeated and maybe the favorites to reach the top of the podium.
"I think Latvia has played a great tournament and I wish them the best of luck," Spain coach Evaristo Perez said.
"We knew it was going to be a very level game. We try to play for 40 minutes and we make sure that they are a very long 40 minutes for the rival team.
"The rebounds was key in the first two quarters. We try to grow our game in the second half as we have done in the past games."
So far in Latvia, there is nothing to dislike about Spain.
They have experience, youth and plenty of fire.
The player who has sparked the offense all summer long is Anna Montanana. She had 25 points on 12 of 17 shooting.
But Spain also got outstanding games from their co-captains, Elisa Aguilar and Amaya Valdemoro.
Aguilar hit four three-pointers on her way to 14 points and Valdemoro scored 12 in her first game since recovering from a calf injury.
Valdemoro had planned to make her first appearance on Saturday but in the early morning hours she woke up with a major tooth-ache and went to hospital where she had the incisor removed.
"I felt really well, better than I expected," Valdemoro said.
"For me, it was hard to be 20 days without playing. It's always fun to play in the national team."
Valdemoro admitted to being frustrated over having to watch games.
"I have suffered on the bench," she said, "but I have enjoyed watching my teammates play.
"I have tried to control my anxiety on the court and just have fun."
Latvia played their part in a thrilling game and led 49-46 with 1:21 to go in the third quarter after Zane Eglite's jump shot.
Spain responded with an 11-0 run bridging the third and fourth quarters that was capped by one of the best plays of the EuroBasket Women.
Gunta Basko went in for a lay-up and had the shot blocked, and controlled by Alba Torrens.
The 19-year-old then turned, dribbled down the right sideline in front of the teams' benches before sailing through the Latvia defense and scoring with a lay-up.
Latvia coach Ainars Zvirgzdins did not show up at the press conference to talk about his team's second straight setback in front of the home fans but instead sent in his Spanish assistant, Julian Martinez.
"We were expecting the best Spain," he said.
"They had been struggling in preparation and had tight games before the tournament.
"We were waiting for a tough team. I think we need confidence in order to win these kind of games."
Jekabsone-Zogota had 12 of her team-high 18 points in the first half.
The consequence of losing for Latvia means they are third in the group and will now face either Russia or France in the Quarter-Finals.
"We knew that it was important for Latvia because they could either finish first or third," Valdemoro said.
"(Anete) Jekabsone is in great form and we wanted to stop her. We played 100% defense and we were rewarded for our efforts."
If Valdemoro was the MVP of the EuroBasket Women two years ago, Montanana is playing herself into consideration for the honor this year.
In her five previous games, she had averaged 17 points.
"Anna Montanana has had an outstanding game," Valdemoro said.
"When we were struggling, she came up with the play."