Girls almost in finals

National women’s basketball team continuing successfully through European Championship qualification tournament, claiming four victories so far — over Israel and Ukraine, Hungary and Portugal
By Dmitry Baranovsky

Both matches were decisive to a greater degree for the Belarusian team in the current qualifying round. On the eve of the game against Israel, Rimantas Grigas’ squad had serious ‘staff problems’, making the match more difficult. The opponent had failed to take our team seriously in past years and only conceded defeat in the fourth quarter, thanks to three point shots scored by Anastasia Veremeenko (who usually plays centre but had to cover the whole court during this game). Our girls made many errors yet still managed to claim a win. Meanwhile, Natalia Anufrienko has a dislocation while Alla Muravskaya’s knee injury has her out of play for at least six months. Yekaterina Snytina and Yulia Rytikova were also unable to play and Marina Kress and Victoria Gasper have back problems.

According to Mr. Grigas, a difficult flight schedule (35 hours flying time over three days) didn’t help the situation.
Before the match in Ukraine’s Yuzhny, the coaching staff of the Belarusian team faced serious problems, whose solution would influence the result of the match and the whole qualifying campaign. Victory would almost guarantee a place in the European Championship finals while defeat promised uneasy matches in Hungary and Israel, since it would inspire more resistance.

Fortunately, there was no need for such speculation. By the first break, the Belarusians had already ensured a rather comfortable advantage over the Ukrainians — 27:22. In the third quarter, the hosts rallied, but were rebuffed by Anastasia Veremeenko. Their only opportunity was in the fourth quarter, when Tatiana Panchenko led the hosts forward — 38:37. However, the Ukrainians failed to keep their lead; within forty seconds, Veremeenko’s exact shot had taken the Belarusian women ahead. The centre player of Turkish Fenerbahce SK made a double-double (13 points and 13 rebounds), leaving no chances for the opponent and enabling her team mates to bring the game to victory without serious interference — 55:51.
“We expected the game to be difficult, since the squad was lacking three key players,” noted Mr. Grigas after the match. “Fortunately, the remaining players demonstrated character and we managed to win.”

Returning from Ukraine, the team’s task in the current qualifying round has significantly simplified. In Group A, the girls are ranked first, boasting three points of advantage (ahead of Hungary). Rimantas Grigas’ trainees will face the Hungarians in Sopron on Saturday, which should settle their participation in the European Championship finals.
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