By Joseph Wilson
Spain defeated Italy 61-42 in a game of two halves and booked a spot in the Semi-Finals.
Spain stays undefeated in the tournament, but a team that is known for its offense found itself in a dogfight in the first half and had to turn to its defense to get the win.
The first half could not have been different from the second.
Italy jumped out to 12-1 lead in the first quarter. Then Spain finally got their offense going and the teams went into halftime separated by only a point.
After scoring 28 in the first twenty minutes, Italy was held to just 14 second-half points by a smothering Spanish defense.
"I want to congratulate Italy. They made it very difficult for us. It wasn't a pretty game and we started with a lot of nerves at the beginning," said Spanish coach Evaristo Pérez.
"But I am happy that we knew how to win ugly today by tightening our defense and calming down."
The contest was decided in the third quarter. Spain had as many offensive rebounds as Italy did points- eight.
"Without question it was our third quarter defense. They were a very tough opponent that gave us a lot of difficulties in the first half and in the second half we held them to 14 points and that was without doubt the key to the win," said Spain's Elisa Aguilar, who had eight points in the game, including two NBA-range three-point bombs.
While Spain relied on a balanced attack- Anna Montañana led the team with ten points and ten players contributed to the scoreboard, Italy was completely dependent on forward Laura Macchi.
Macchi had 16 points before halftime but only managed 2 more points in the second half after Spain realized that today Italy was a one-woman show. No other player scored more than six points for Giampiero Ticchi's team.
"If they limit us to 42 points it means that they played a very good game," said the Italian coach.
"I am not happy, but in 48 hours we have another game and we prepare for that."
Italy will play the loser of the Russia-Latvia Quarter-Final with hopes to still make the top five spots and qualify for next year's World Championship and EuroBasket 2011.
Spain play the winner for the a ticket to go to the Final.
"In theory Russia is a more powerful opponent. I think Russia is a step ahead of the rest of the teams here, but they have lost as we have seen," coach Perez said.
"We match up better with Latvia for style of play."
Italy got the beginning it dreamed of. Spain missed its first eight shots and only had one point on a single free throw during the first six minutes.
Italy ran out to a 12-1 lead capped by a five-point possession by Laura Macchi on two free throws plus a three-pointer making the most of an unsportsmanlike foul.
Spain finally got going on back-to-back threes by Alba Torrens and Anna Montañana to cut the Italian lead to 14-7, but on the next possession Raffaella Masciardi answered with a triple of her own.
But Spain was now firing on all pistons. A three from two steps behind the arc by Aguilar tied it at 20 and a Montañana lay-up in transition after a blocked shot gave Spain the lead and forced coach Ticchi to take his second time out at 5:45 left in the second.
After committing nine turnovers in the first fifteen minutes, Italy started taking care of the ball and didn't give it away once for the last five minutes of the half.
Laura Macchi nailed a three from a step behind the arc and with a hand in her face to give Italy back the lead at 28-27 with ten second to play in half.
A nice bank shot by Montañana as the buzzer sounded let Spain get back the lead 29-28 going into halftime.
Amaya Valdemoro opened the second with a three while Italy missed their first three shots and went scoreless for first two-and-a-half minutes.
A Laia Palau floating jumper plus a three by Torrens put Spain ahead nine.
Anna Cruz then turned a steal into a lay-up and Valdemoro hit a jumper off a possession kept alive by two offensive rebounds.
A Cruz three-pointer from the left side pushed Spain advantage to 14 and Italy was never to seriously challenge thereafter.