|10 August 2013|
|Eniko Kuttor has been one of Hungary's main weapons underneath the basket|
By Dan Casey
History is not on Hungary's side as they look to prevent Spain from reaching a third successive final at the U16 European Championship Women. But the team of 2013 is a new generation, and history does not matter to them.
It is Hungary's first semi-final for 37 years, after they reached this stage on their debut tournament appearance in 1976. By contrast Spain have made the semi-finals in eight of the last nine years and won each time, leading to seven gold medals and one silver.
Spain have also won the last seven games between the nations at this tournament, including a heartbreaker in Miskolc in 2012, knocking out the hosts in the quarter-finals.
Hungary's coach Andrea Meszarosne Kovacs is hoping for a reversal of fortunes on Saturday: "Our girls are eager for a medal. Our coaching staff is glad that we have a mentally strong team. We know how good Spanish basketball is. They are athletically good with great coaching. They beat us in friendly matches in December, but we have improved considerably since then."
Hungary have five players returning from that game including starting power forward Eniko Kuttor, who is averaging a double-double (11.1ppg, 10.6rpg) so far here in Bulgaria. Their size up-front has caught the eye, with the 1.86m Kuttor supported by 15-year-old 1.94m center Virag Kiss (10.4ppg, 9.7rpg), and they boast depth also with Dorottya Nagy and Timea Toth coming off the bench.
Starting backcourt Debora Dubei and Virag Weninger were part of last year's team too with Dubei playing the entire game and notching 22 points. They continue the theme of impressive size, towering over most players at their position while maintaining the speed necessary for perimeter play.
The pair average 17.7ppg, 6.0apg and 2.8 steals per game between them and are complemented by Nina Aho, Agnes Studer and Dominika Borondy, the latter two each grabbing two steals per game themselves in the competition so far.
Spanish coach Evaristo Perez is well aware that his team face a tough challenge: "They are one of the surprises of the tournament. They don't have any big stars, but it's a very good all-round team, and they play nicely both inside and outside."
The Hungarian team deliberately shun outside shooting, preferring to work the ball around inside and look for the best available shot with their advantages. Only one team has managed to slow them so far, the Czech Republic taking a win in the first round group with hot outside-shooting and forcing turnovers.
|Iho Lopez is leading the competition in offensive rebounds, averaging 6.3 per game|
Hungary will need to be careful with the ball in the semi-final as the Spanish team are averaging 15 steals per game in the tournament, and Spain's proficiency on the offensive glass will mean that Hungary need to use all of their defensive rebounding ability.
Iho Lopez grabbed 10 offensive boards herself in a fantastic display in Friday's quarter-final, and her athletic ability combined with the power of Cecilia Muhate will cause trouble for Hungary's vaunted front-line.
Ines Mata will provide some assistance off the bench, while forward Maria Conde has also rebounded well while showing a persistent knack for hitting big shots in averaging 9.7ppg. Her defense on French captain Ornella Bankole was crucial too in the quarter-final victory, and it will be interesting to see how Spain contain Hungary's weapons.
France managed to slow down Spain's star Angela Salvadores in the quarter-final and Hungary will be wary of a bounce-back performance from one of the tournament's star players.
Salvadores has 15.1 points per game for the tournament and enables her team to run smoothly. Maria Cazorla and Laia Raventos have also provided great energy in Spain's backcourt, spurring the team's unbeaten run through the tournament.
Salvadores and Cazorla both played in the 2012 quarter-final win in Hungary, but they know that any success in this year's semi-final will not be a simple case of history repeating itself.