RIGA (EuroBasket Women) – Greece stunned Italy with a fourth-quarter comeback on Saturday to clinch fifth place at the EuroBasket Women and claim the fifth and final spot on offer in Riga for the 2010 FIBA World Championship for Women.
Evina Maltsi buried six three-balls and scored a game-high 26 points as the Greeks prevailed 60-56 to cap a roller-coaster two weeks for Kostas Missas’ team in Latvia.
Maltsi was so good in Liepaja and Riga that she was voted EuroBasket Women MVP, a remarkable achievement considering the Greeks did not reach the Semi-Finals.
She ranked first in several statistical categories.
She averaged a tournament best 22.6 points and 3.1 steals per contest. Her 90.9% shooting at the free-throw line was second to none.
Three of their four losses were by a combined six points, and that included a 51-49 setback to eventual champions France in the Quarter-Finals.
They made sure the Riga crowd enjoyed one last thrill on Saturday, the last day of the EuroBasket Women.
Trailing 45-34 with 2:47 to go in the third quarter, Maltsi sparked her team as she did the entire fortnight by knocking down a three-pointer.
Greece ended up entering the fourth quarter behind 46-40.
After going on a 10-4 run over the first five minutes of the final period, with five of those points scored by Maltsi, the ZVVZ USK Prague star drilled another shot from behind the arc with 2:35 to go to snap a 50-50 tie and put the Greeks in front for good.
"She is the heart of the team and has great talent,” Missas said. “But for me the most important thing is that even though she is a star, she listens to the coaches like she's a rookie."
After the final buzzer, Maltsi ran to the side of the court, grabbed a Greek flag and draped it over her shoulders before joining her teammates in one of the best celebrations ever at a EuroBasket Women.
The Greek players danced on the Arena Riga court safe in the knowledge that not only would they travel to the Czech Republic next year, but also play at the EuroBasket Women in Poland in 2011.
“It’s all about our passion,” she said to FIBA.com. “We showed everyone that we play basketball. We deserve and earned respect because we work hard. We have a good team, a plan, and we follow our orders, do our best on the court.
“We were down by 11 points, but Greeks never give up. This is what I said in the locker room before going out in the second half.”
By virtue of reaching the Semi-Finals in Riga, France, Russia, Spain and Belarus also sealed places at the 2010 FIBA World Championship for Women.
Missas and his great assistant George Dikaioulakos won’t have much time to rest.
On Sunday, they flew with the team to Amsterdam and then boarded a connecting flight to Athens. On Monday, they will join Greece’s team to begin preparations for the U20 European Championship for Men that is to be played next month in Rhodes.
Maltsi was asked on Sunday if she feared that Missas might be tempted to take another job and not coach the team next year at the FIBA World Championship for Women.
“No, he will be there,” she said. “He and I had an agreement before the EuroBasket. He will be there.”