Day 5 Women: GRE 93 - JAP 91
Greece edges Japan as last quarterfinalist
ATHENS - A record crowd for Women's Basketball in Greece raised the roof at Helliniko Indoor Arena as their national team claimed the last quarterfinal Olympics berth with an absolutely thrilling 93-91 victory over valiant Japan.
Ryoko YANO, author of eight previous 3-pointers in the game, missed an open one from the corner on the buzzer that would have sent Japan to the quarterfinals instead. Greece finished 2-3 in Group A and Japan 1-4.
Greece only qualified for the Olympics as the host country. Its highest international finish until YANO's shot missed was ninth place in the 2003 European Championships.
The Greek women danced in a circle to celebrate before 7,223 flag-waving fans, while the Japanese players took a much-deserved bow for having come back from 14 points down late in the second quarter to lead by six late in the fourth.
After a timeout with 3:43 to play, however, Greek scored on three consecutive possessions to tie, then put the ball in the hands of star Evanthia MALTSI. She responded with a basket-plus-foul on a huge offensive rebound with 1:25 to go and followed it with a 3-point strike from outside to put Greece in the clear at 91-87.
MALTSI finished with 33 points, the most by any female player in a preliminary-round game, and 11 rebounds. Polymnia SAREGKOU added 22 points and 9 rebounds, Maria SAMOROUKOVA 19 points and 8 rebounds. Anastasia KOSTAKI had 12 points, including two key free throws with 6.7 seconds left that made it 93-90.
Greece fouled with 4.6 seconds to go so that Japan could not launch another 3-pointer. Kaori KUSUDA made the first free throw and missed the second on purpose. The ball went out of bounds to Japan.
YANO inbounded to KUSUDA, who passed back to her teammate in the corner, wide open. YANO had launched 11 shots from the arc until then and made eight. This time, despite no defensive challenge, she aimed her shot a tad left and it bounced off the rim as the buzzer sounded.
YANO finished with 28 points to lead six Japanese scorers in double figures. Taeko OYAMA added five 3-pointers for 16 points. Norika HAMAGUCHI scored 13 before fouling out, KUSUDA and Maki EGUCHI had 11 each, while Mutsuko NAGATA had 10.
Greece had tried to blow Japan off the floor early, as MALTSI scored all the points for a 9-0 lead. YANO and OYAMA started then with 3-pointers, but Greece got five inside baskets from SAREGKOU to stay ahead 27-15 after 10 minutes.
Japan was just getting going, however. OYAMA and YANO would combine for six more 3-pointers in the second quarter to cut Greece's lead to just 47-41.
When KUSUDA joined YANO with triples early in the third quarter, Japan kept climbing. A battle was also brewing in the paint between HAMAGUCHI and SAMOROUKOVA, each scoring on and drawing fouls from the other. Finally, however, another 3-pointer by OYAMA completed Japan's long comeback as the third quarter ended 63-63.
Seven ties and lead changes would keep the crowd on the edge of its seat in the fourth quarter until MALTSI decided it in the closing minutes, and YANO's bad luck confirmed an historic step for Greece.
Evanthia MALTSI, guard (GRE)
On the game:
"We showed our strenghth and we didn't panic when Japan was leading by six, three minutes to go. We could ve done better but we achieved our main target. To qualify in the quarter-finals."
On the atmosphere:
"From deep inside my heart, I thank all the Greeks fans for their support. It's the happiest moment in my career."
Anastasia KOSTAKI, guard (GRE)
On the game:
"Japan proved that is very good team. They were finding the net from everywhere they were shooting. Thank God they missed in last shot. I prayed to God in that moment. Despite our qualification, I think we didn't play well, because we were stressed. Fortunately, the fans gave us great support and create a very beautiful atmosphere."
On the next game against the U.S. team in the quarter-finals:
"It will be a wonderfull experience, because it's the first time we are going to face this kind of great players. We will play for the love of the game, just to enjoy the our first participation in the quarter-finals of an Olympic tournament. our opponents are in a higher level which is difficult for us to follow."
Taeko OYAMA, Guard, Team Captain (JPN)
"In today's game from one side there were a lot of Greeks cheering up for their team, and from the other us as visitors. We gave the game everything we had and gave our best performance in the tournament. From Greece, No 5 (Anastasia KOSTAKI) and No 9 (Evanthia MALTSI) were amazing. We are sad for the loss, but there is in us a sense of satisfaction and optimism to powerfully move on from here."
Tomohide UTSUMI, Head Coach (JPN)
"It was an exceptional game for both teams. It was equally as important, and very much of a thinking game. Both Japan and Greece showed extreme strength. The Greeks got a few breaks in the middle, but we played hard and found solutions. The game continued at the same pace up to the last moment. I wish we had won, but it was a great game anyway. We really hope Greece moves forward, we encourage and support them."
Anastasia KOSTAKI, Point Guard (GRE)
"Japan is a very good team and they showed it. They were incredibly accurate in their shooting, and very well prepared for the game. I think that we won because perhaps we wanted it more. We had to run a lot, because Japanese players are very quick. We are very happy that we made the final eight. This was our goal from the start. Many thanks to our fans, they helped us a lot. We knew that our most probable opponent would be the United States. I'm glad I will play against them, it will be a fantastic experience. We will play as hard as we can and I'm sure we will learn a lot from this game."
Georgios TSITSKARIS, Head Coach (GRE)
On the game:
"A good day for us. We competed in the Olympic Games for the first time and managed to reach the final eight. I had some hopes that we could do even better, but unfortunately things didn't turn out as we'd like in the game against Brazil. Japan was well prepared, and us too. The result was a great game that I think everyone enjoyed, either in the arena or on TV. I believe we gained many friends from this game, and some will be attracted to women's basketball. Thanks to Coach UTSUMI for his wishes and congratulations for his team, that played well in all games of this tournament."
On the possible 'evasion' of Greek players to foreign teams:
"The Greek national team will not suffer if players go abroad. On the contrary, the players will benefit from playing in very competitive leagues and will come back to prepare for international competition during the summer. The way things are in the Greek championship, maybe it's better for them to leave. There has been considerable progress in the national team, but not in the clubs and the championship. Many things have got to change, otherwise the success of this team will go down the drain."
On what has to be done for things to get better in Greek women's basketball:
"Communication and promotion policy is indispensable, but it's not there. We had problems, for example, with the Press, when things that did not happen are printed. There have been rumours about players fighting in the locker room, something that never happened. If it had, I would have admitted it, as I did with the case with the doping control assistant. I just asked that lady, that had come to take one of the players for doping control, to leave me with my players for just two minutes, to talk to them after a bad result (against Australia). There has been a misunderstanding, because they don't understand our procedures as a team and obviously we don't understand theirs. But I believe it's a total outrage even to insinuate that, at my age and in my position as national team coach and university professor, I try to keep my players out of doping controls. I am against the use of any drug, I highly favor doping control, and so does the Hellenic Basketball Federation, so everything consumed by my players is thoroughly screened."
On the game against the United States in the quarterfinals:
"I know my team's capabilities and its limits. On Wednesday, against the US, we will go to play against a great team. They will play their game and we will play ours, but there's no way we are going there like lambs to be slaughtered."
Source: Athens news service