Eurocup triumph for Athinaikos!
The Athens side won the first ever European trophy for a Greek women’s basketball side, prompting wild celebrations inside and outside the stadium.
Athinaikos won the Eurocup by completing a narrow two-legged triumph over Russian outfit Nadezhda, becoming the first Greek women’s basketball team to win a European Championship.
This victory highlights the progress of women’s basketball in this country, also illustrated last summer when Greece captured fifth spot in the European Championship in Latvia and qualified for this year’s World Championship.
“This title means many things,” said Dikeoulakos, who until recently was also assistant to the national team coach. “The future belongs to those who believe in the magic of their dreams. And women’s basketball has a future in this country; it requires much more attention.”
The Orenburg team trailed by eight points after the first leg and managed to close the gap to just two points on aggregate late on Thursday, but it ended up winning the second leg 57-53. That gave Athinaikos a 118-114 victory overall.
Anastasia Veremeenko scored the first points of the night on free throws with one minute into the game after being fouled on a lay-up attempt by Gintare Petronyte.
Athinaikos looked nervous early on as former Young Women’s Player of the Year Petronyte missed close distance shots in front of a packed gym of 450 spectators and the same amount at a public viewing screen just outside the arena. Veremeenko and Nadezhda took control under the defensive glass and had the better of especially Petronyte at this stage of the game.
But when Athinaikos coach George Dikeoulakos went for Irene Vizbariene and Ruth Riley under the Basket instead of Kosma and Petronyte things started looking better for the Greek powerhouse.
Russian youngster Tatiana Burik buried a three pointer to give Nadezhda a 3-7 lead with 6 minutes to play in the first quarter.
Athinaikos finally seemed to have found a rhythm on offensive thanks to a couple of pick and roll plays that we executed nicely either by point guard Kalentzou or the rolling centers Vizbariene and Riley.
Candice Wiggins opened the second quarter with a three pointer that was answered immediately by another triple of Burik.
After Monique Currie scored on two consecutive fast breaks, the latter after a steal on the high-post and a break-away lay-up, Nadezhda were holding a slim lead at 20-23 with five minutes played in the second period.
With 2:35 left before half-time Athinaikos had to thank especially one player that they were not down by more than one point.
Veteran Irene Vizbariene had scored 10 of her team’s 22 points and pulled down 3 rebounds in an inspired performance.
Nadezhda had played lock down defense in the first half, only allowing 22 points and forcing the controlled Athinaikos offense into bad shots and several 24 second violations.
One player was irresistible on the night and that was Vizbariene who hit two long twos after good dishes by Olga Chatzinikolaou and Kalentzou mdway through the third quarter.
Unimpressed by her previous turn over that made coach Koloskov take her out of the game and have some serious words with her, Tatiana Burik checked back in to drill a long three from seven meters to make it 34-36 with 3:40 to play in the third.
In a tough but fair game both teams exchanged blows but neither team was able to open a bigger lead with both defences looking well prepared for the opponent’s offensive scheme and so the game headed into the final period with a tight but insufficient Nadezhda lead at 38-40.
Nadezhda put themselves in a good position with a three pointer by Belarus international Katerina Snytsina and were up 40-45 with seven minutes to play which meant they were only trailling by three on aggregate.
But so far little used Petronyte made her free throws and cut the deficit to three on the next possession.
With the score 43-47 and 3:35 to play everything seemed possible for Nadezhda who were now fully in control of the offensive glass as well.
But young Iouliti Lymoura showed no signs of fear when she drilled a three pointer to close the gap and went to the hoop right after just to get awarded two foul shots.
She made the first but missed the second and so Athinaikos were still trailling 47-49 with exactly 2:00 on the scoreboard.
Monique Currie made her free throws and a lay-up after her own offensive rebound and the Orenburg outfit looked good to go.
Then Candice Wiggins showed her class by burying another three pointer and the Greeks came up with a big steal at half court to give them the ball up five on aggregate and 55 seconds to go in the thriller.
Dimitia Kalentzou could have put it beyond doubt but missed both her free throws and Currie made hers to bring the difference back to three on aggregate.
The hosts turned the ball over at the inbound and Nadezhda could have tied it but Riley got the rebound on scored one free throw after being fouled right away.
Currie, again with free throws made it 51-57 and Kalentzou stepped to the line again after being fouled with 11 sec. to go.
This time she kept her cool and made both.
Veremeenko airballed a three point attempt and Athinaikos prevailed for good with the frenetic crowd celebrating the title. Anastasia Veremeenko had a double double of 12 points and 14 rebounds in defeat with Currie leading all scorers at 18. Athinaikos got 14 points from Vizbariene who fouled out early and 9 points and 9 rebounds from Ruth Riley.
Despite the final term jitters, Athinaikos eventually held on to win the Eurocup, sparking wild celebrations among the hosts’ fans and making coach Tzortzis Dikeoulakos proud.
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