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Basketball - 21. June 2011.

Eurobasket-Latvia prove anything is possible

LAT - Latvia prove anything is possible
KATOWICE (EuroBasket Women) - There are no certainties in a EuroBasket Women.

France, 86-40 winners over Croatia on Saturday, were big favorites going into their game against Latvia one day later.

A win would put the French into the next round and allow them to cruise on Monday in their game against the Greeks.

No one gave Latvia, who had fallen to Greece on Friday, a chance to beat the defending champions, a team that hadn't lost at a EuroBasket Women since 2007.

Les Bleues went unbeaten two years ago en route to the gold medal and they're supposed to be as good as ever in 2011 when the mission is to make it to the Olympics for the first time since 2000.

Latvia proved on Sunday night that with good preparation, concentration, mental strength and self-belief, anything is possible.

They came from 10 points down to force overtime and then beat the French, 59-56.

This result was a thank you present to those Latvia fans who are second to none in women's basketball and travelled to Poland to back the team.

It was also another defining moment for both Latvia point guard Elina Babkina and her coach, George Dikeoulakos.

The two know each other well and seem to be thriving in each other's company.

Last summer, Dikeoulakos delivered big style in his first summer as Latvia coach by leading the team in a successful qualifying campaign for this year's EuroBasket.

He did so without Anete Jekabsone-Zogota.

The veteran guard didn't want to play for the national team then and also chose to stay away this summer.

Relying on the leadership of captain Gunta Basko, Dikeoulakos also turned to 21-year-old Babkina and made her his floor general.

She repaid the faith then, and continues to do so now.

Babkina had 26 points against the French - 22 in the second half and overtime - as Latvia claimed one of their most famous victories ever and caused the biggest upset of this year's EuroBasket.

It was yet another big game for Babkina with Dikeoulakos this year, in fact.

At club level, the two were at Lotos Gdynia in Poland this season and celebrated a title.

Dikeoulakos was put in charge of the team in January and led Lotos Gdynia on a long winning streak, including victories in the Polish Cup with Babkina the MVP of that event.

They will be together next season, too.

The two have decided to leave Gdynia for Fenerbahce, who will be among the favorites to win the EuroLeague Women.

Right now, their eyes are on the EuroBasket.

They bounced back from the disappointment of Saturday's defeat to Greece by knocking off the defending champions.

The win meant that the Baltic side can ensure its place in the next round with a win over Croatia on Monday.

For that reason, despite claiming one of the biggest-ever triumphs, Latvia and Dikeoulakos couldn't celebrate after the victory over Les Bleues.

"We beat the best team in Europe," said Dikeoulakos, whose management of the game was perfect.

He used his timeouts at the right time to keep his players focused and organized.

"The first rule of basketball is that first you put your heart and then your tactics and yesterday (Saturday against Greece), we did the opposite.

"Tomorrow's (Monday's) game is important because if we lose we are out.

"But now we don´t need to win by seven tomorrow but just win.

"I hope we can do it."

No celebrations?

"We have to calm down and do our job," Dikeoulakos said.

For France, the team now has to take on a Greek team that has given it problems in the past.

Greece almost upset them in the Quarter-Finals two years ago but lost 51-49.

"The competition is like this," France coach Pierre Vincent said.

"One day it´s sunny and the other it's raining, but you have to win when it rains."



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