|With nine players making their EuroBasket Women debut, Italy have surpassed their own expectations by reaching the last eight|
By Paul Nilsen
Turning Point: Italy came storming out for the second half and corrected their blip before the interval which caused them to fall 45-34 behind. They seized the momentum with both hands at the start of the second half with a 14-3 run and never relinquished it.
Stats Don't Lie: Italy were on fire from three-point range and shot 57.1% after making 8 of 14. However, it was defensively where the big statistic mattered. They held Montenegro to just nine points in the third quarter and then an even better six points during the last period.
Game Heroes: Raffaella Masciadri shot the ball better than she has in a long time, to finish with a sparkling 15 points. But, the relentlessly suffocating defence played by guard duo Giulia Gatti and Francesca Dotto was absolutely priceless, as was the energy and all-action game of Ilaria Zanoni, who set the tone for this vibrant Italian display.
Italy celebrated reaching the quarter-finals of EuroBasket Women 2013 after overturning a double-digit half-time deficit against Montenegro to rack up a 60-66 success and leave the hopes of their opponents hanging by a thread.
In a pulsating and entertaining contest which had some big momentum swings, the sharp-shooting Italians booked a somewhat shock slot in the last eight.
"We are happy because when we started together last year, we didn't expect to get to this point," admitted Italian play-caller Roberto Ricchini.
"They scored 43 points in the first half of the game, but we stared to be more aggressive.
"We thought that could cause them some problems with their shorter rotation and kept on pushing to see if they would get tired more easily."
The early exchanges witnessed Italy finding themselves in the ascendancy at 17-11 and looking assured. And, when Montenegro came back to take the lead, another downtown basket by Raffaella Masciadri levelled affairs at 31-31 and it turned into a real perimeter shootout, as the teams made a combined eight of ten from distance.
However, Montenegro had much more to their all-round game and made their move ahead of the interval. They posted a devastating 14-3 run to assume control and take a double-digit lead heading to the locker rooms.
But, Italy were rejuvenated when they returned to the floor. They got back to 47-47 with a fantastic few minutes. As the energy flowed, Giorgia Sottana converted from the arc to get her team back on an equal footing.
As Masciadri continued her hot streak from three-point land, Italy found themselves leading 56-54 heading into the last period, after Zanoni just got a lay-up to drop on the buzzer.
Then, just as Italy feared a costly late wobble, 20-year-old Francesca Dotto converted a big three-pointer from the corner to ease nerves and effectively make the game safe with a couple of minutes remaining.
The outcome meant Montenegro were left sweating on their Eurobasket Women 2013 fate.