KARLOVY VARY (2010 FIBA World Championship for Women) - The Czech Republic survived in an overtime classic against Belarus on Saturday night to reach the Final of the FIBA World Championship for Women.
Playing at home in front of a packed house in the Karlovy Vary Arena, the Czechs prevailed 81-77 and will now face the United States or Spain in the title game.
Eva Viteckova led the Czechs with 21 points and Jana Vesela had 15 while point guard Hana Horakova put forth another all-round effort.
She had 14 points, five assists, four rebounds and a game-high four steals.
Ivana Vecerova was also immense with eight points and eight rebounds.
"Belarus played perfect and always hit back and we made quite a few mistakes," Viteckova said. "Had we not done some of those, we would have won the game in regulation.
"But it's great that in overtime, we were able to regroup and have enough energy to win."
The Czechs had a hard game against Australia and they had to pull out all stops against Belarus as well.
"It was physically absolutely draining this game," Viteckova said.
"But the most difficult job was for our inside post players."
That was because the Czechs had to overcome the twin towers of Belarus.
Anatoli Buyalski's team got 24 points, seven rebounds and three blocks from Anastasiya Verameyenka.
Yelena Leuchanka was also terrific for Belarus with 17 points and seven boards.
The game was tight from start to finish but with 13 seconds left in regulation, two Viteckova free-throws gave the hosts a 68-65 lead.
The Czechs fouled Natallia Marchanka to prevent the Belarus point guard from launching a potential game-tying three-ball.
Marchanka made the first free-throw but missed the second.
However, Leuchanka took the offensive rebound and Marchanka found captain Nataliya Trafimava who scored with a lay-up with four seconds left.
After a timeout, the Czechs inbounded the ball at midcourt and Jana Vesela put up a long jumper but Verameyenka swatted the shot to send the game to overtime.
In the extra period, a Tatyana Troina lay-up put Belarus in front at 73-72 with 2:43 to go.
Two Vecerova free-throws reclaimed the lead for the Czechs and a long Viteckova three-pointer with 1:10 to go made it 77-73.
Belarus twice closed the gap to two but got no closer.
Czech coach Lubor Blazek breathed a sigh of relief after it was over.
"We made mistakes at the end of the game but we kept our energy and managed to keep the intensity in overtime," he said.
While the Czechs must get some rest before the Final, Belarus must get ready for the bronze-medal game.
They will square off against the loser of the second Semi-Final between the Americans and Spain.
"I thank my team for this fight," Buyalski said.
"They fought until the end.
"Tomorrow we will play for the bronze medal."
photos Janos Schmidt