|Jelena Milovanovic has been Serbia's top scorer so far, averaging 12 points per game|
By Paul Nilsen
Expectations for both Serbia and Italy weren't huge heading into EuroBasket Women 2013 and after a roller-coaster ride for both, they find themselves a mere 40 minutes away from a semi-final spot and booking their place at the FIBA World Championship for Women next year.
Last Time Out: Italy produced one of their most impressive performances of the competition to ride out 66-60 winners against Montenegro. Serbia extended their hot streak with a fourth consecutive success as they took down Czech Republic 75-59.
Key Match-Up: It's one of the most curious aspects of the tournament in that Italy have more or less played without a traditional power forward. So, it's interesting that they now must find a strategy to contain Jelena Milovanovic, who is the big Serbian danger. She can operate both inside and out, make big shots from all over the floor and it will be a fundamental defensive assignment. Who will be tasked with it, is intriguing. Italy managed to contain Jelena Dubljevic in the last game, but she doesn't carry the same three-point threat. It will probably be Sabrina Cinili and Raffaella Masciadri who are asked to do the bulk of this important role.
Key Stat: Serbia have the second worst three-point shooting percentage of any team left in the tournament. They manage only 29% from the perimeter.
X-Factors: Serbia like the physical approach and Italy must deal with it, especially in the paint. But then rather than physicality, Italy excel in intense defence and are great at putting real pressure on the ball, something which Milica and Ana Dabovic will have to handle. The other factors are that the Serbian bench must keep contributing as they have been doing - players like Jovana Rad and Nevena Jovanovic. Whilst for Italy, they will get an incredible lift if players like Masciadri can once again get the hot hand from three-point land. There is also a big defensive call to be made by Italian head coach Roberto Ricchini. He likes to really put pressure on ball handlers, but the conundrum is that with Serbia shooting the ball poorly from outside and really competitive under the hoop, will he rely much more on a zone defence? Both teams also know each other well, having met in some pre-EuroBasket Women preparation games.
From The Camps: "The word about Italy is that they are a great team that runs fantastic and plays very strong in defence. The fact that they eliminated Montenegro from the tournament, whose qualities are self-evident, clearly shows what type of enemy is waiting for us in the quarter-finals." - Serbian head coach Marina Maljkovic.
"Getting to the quarter-finals is an indescribable emotion. Nothing like this has happened to me with the national team before." - Italian small forward Ilaria Zanoni.
"Being in the top eight teams in Europe fills us with joy - mostly because we got it on our own and without waiting for favours. Honestly, this placement is beyond our hopes. A year ago, we started a new cycle with young players and now we find ourselves in the elite of European basketball." - Italian head coach Roberto Ricchini.