RIGA (EuroBasket Women) – Belarus defeated Slovakia 70-68 in overtime on Wednesday at the EuroBasket Women to clinch a place at the 2010 FIBA World Championship for Women.
After leading by 14 points in the first half and 48-42 at the break, Anatoli Buyalsky’s team had to hold on for dear life.
Slovakia outscored Belarus 12-3 over the first 4:32 of the third quarter to trail 39-35 and then took a 42-41 advantage with 3:14 to go in the period after a basket by the impressive Anna Jurcenkova. That shot appeared to wake up Belarus, who finished the quarter with a 7-0 run for a 48-42 advantage.
The bronze-medal winners at the EuroBasket two years ago and a quarter-finalist at the Beijing Games, Belarus opened up a 58-49 lead with 4:16 to go after a Yelena Leuchanka basket, only for Slovakia's Jurcenkova to drill a jump shot, Martina Gyurcsi to bury a three-pointer and Zirkova to make a lay-up to close the gap to 58-56.
Belarus kept their noses in front but Zirkova connected from behind the arc to reduce the arrears to 60-59 with 33 seconds to go. Jurcenkova intercepted a Belarus pass with nine seconds to go and Belarus fouled Lucia Laskova as she went in for the go-ahead lay-up. She missed the first but made the second to knot the contest at 60-60.
After a timeout, Slovakia stole the inbounds pass but weren’t able to get off a good shot and the game went to overtime.
In the extra period, Slovakia twice went in front, the second time at 66-64 with 1:18 to go after a lay-up by Zirkova. Shortly after, the inspirational point guard Natallia Marchanka came up with the biggest play of the EuroBasket for Belarus.
Marchanka, wearing a face-mask since breaking her nose in her team's Qualifying Round win over Lithuania, drove into the lane and made a lay-up with her left hand while also drawing a foul from Jana Carnoka.
She sank the free-throw for a 67-66 advantage and Belarus had the lead for good, though they had to sweat out a nervous final minute of overtime.
After Zuzana Zirkova, Romana Vynuchalova and Martina Gyurcsi all missed shots, Belarus rebounded and Slovakia chased down Tatyana Troina in the corner and fouled the forward with 13 seconds remaining.
She missed the first free throw but made the second for a 68-66 lead. Slovakia coach Pokey Chatman called a timeout and when play resumed, Zirkova drove into the lane and missed a lay-up with seven seconds to go.
Anastasiya Verameyenka rebounded, was fouled and then made two free-throws. Gyurcsi went in for a lay-up at the end to close the gap to one, but Belarus inbounded the ball and the final buzzer sounded.
“There was a huge desire and dedication to win this game,” said Buyalsky, whose team has been on a roller-coaster ride of emotion for the entire tournament. They won just once in their Preliminary Round in Valmiera and only reached the Quarter-Finals after beating Turkey in their last Qualifying Round game by 16 points (they had needed to win that game by seven).
“Tatyana Troina got hurt five minutes before the end and said she couldn’t play," Buyalsky said.
“I told her that we needed her and she came out and played.”
Belarus will now play the winner of France v Greece, while Slovakia still have a chance to clinch a place at the FIBA World Championship.
They need to win two classification games and come in fifth place in order to play in the Czech Republic next year. "Congratulations to Belarus for a fine ball game," Chatman said. "Coaches always talk about the stats sheet but the bottom line is the score at the end. We created opportunities to win and we didn't. We have to regroup from this."