Spain Take First In Group A

09.06.2009

Anna Montanana and Spain haven't been at full strength at this EuroBasket Women with Amaya Valdemoro unable to play so far because of a calf injury.

They provided plenty of evidence on Tuesday that when the business end of the tournament gets underway in Riga on Thursday, they will be ready.

In a battle for Group A supremacy, veterans Montanana and Elisa Aguilar sparked the Spanish in a 71-54 triumph over Slovakia.

Montanana had 24 points and six steals while Aguilar poured in 21 points.

"We thought the game would be more complicated than the end result," Montanana said.

"We had watched them play and seen their results in preparation. I think they have created a team with a lot of rhythm and confidence.

"To be in the next round with three wins in our pockets, having played without Amaya Valdemoro, she is our leader - we are overcoming adversity. But this is Spain."

Trailing 29-26 with 4:21 to go in the second quarter after a Katarina Hrickova three-point play for Slovakia, Spain finished the period with an 11-1 run and never trailed again.

The biggest play in that spurt happened after Aguilar had drilled a jump shot to give Evaristo Perez's team a 30-29 advantage.

Montanana knocked the ball away from Slovakia veteran Zuzana Zirkova, darted toward the basket and scored an uncontested lay-up.

They ended up going to the break with a 37-30 lead.

Montanana then scored the team's first six points of the third quarter.

An Aguilar steal triggered a fast-break that Montanana finished for the first basket.

Montanana then picked off a Lucia Kupcikova pass and went in for another lay-up.

"Maybe if I had 10 timeouts, I could have stopped their transition," said Slovakia coach Pokey Chatman, when asked if there was anything else she could have done in the game.

"For us, it was important that we control the pace, rhythm and tempo which is easier said than done. Their defense took us out of our rhythm.

"I think some of our inexperience showed. If you don't take care of the basketball, it leads to transition baskets. We couldn't quite recover from that."

In Perez's more than two years in charge of Spain, the coach has guided them to a silver medal at the EuroBasket Women in 2007 and to fifth place at the Olympics.

He has also learned never to think too far ahead.

Three consecutive wins in Latvia without Valdemoro would suggest this team has enough fire power to threaten for a place on the podium.

"We're only thinking about our next game," Perez said.

Montanana says the win over Slovakia has been an important one in Spain's campaign.

"For us, it was really, really important," she said.

"It was one of our finals. The Slovakian team play well, like us with their running and defense. We knew it was going to be tough, a month when we have struggled. It's going to help our confidence."

Slovakia did not appear to be shaken by their first loss in the EuroBasket.

"We spoke about building momentum when we started our preparations in May," Chatman said.

"I think we have built a little confidence here. We've got an identity of playing good defense when it gets tough.

"Our main focus is to go back and see what we can learn from this game."
 

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