Day 1 Women: Russia 69 - Greece 62
Russians off to winning start
ATHENS (Olympics) - Russia overcame a determined effort by hosts Greece on Saturday night to hit the ground running at the Olympics.
The European champions looked rattled early as a composed Greece twice led by as many as six points and held a 34-31 lead at half-time, but Russia went on a 15-2 run after the restart to seize the initiative and ultimately prevailed 69-62.
Elena Baranova, the Russian stalwart who has been her country's best player the past several years, had 16 points and 12 rebounds.
She wasn't surprised by the effort put forth by the Greeks.
"I said before that it was going to be a different tournament," she said to PA International.
"The Olympics is always different. Every team plays hard. "And Greece were playing at home. We have a saying in Russia that 'even the walls are helping.'"
Greek coach Georgios Tsitskaris could hardly have asked for tougher opponents in an opening game but in the opening 20 minutes his players looked as if they may spring an upset.
The home side got eight points apiece from Evanthia Maltsi, Polymnia Saregkou and Maria Samoroukova in the opening half.
Anastasia Kostaki, who had a game-high 17 points, scored on a drive for a 22-16 lead with 7:34 remaining in the second quarter.
After Tatiana Shchegoleva made one of two free throws, a bucket inside by Baranova trimmed Greece's lead to 22-19.
Tsitskaris' team then stretched the advantage back to six at 28-22 with a basket from Saregkou but Russia held firm.
Saregkou scored on a drive with three seconds left before half-time for a three-point lead but they were unable to ride the momentum after the break.
When play resumed, Russia took over.
Guard Ilona Korstin scored on a fastbreak to cut the deficit to 34-33 and then a Baranova steal triggered another fastbreak.
This time, Korstin passed to Oxana Rakhmatulina and she pulled up for a three-pointer to give Russia their first lead since early in the first half.
They would stay in front for the remainder of the game.
Another Russian steal, this time by Natalia Vodopyanova, led to a quick lay-up by Korstin and a 38-34 advantage.
When Baranova scored on a mid-range jumper with 34 seconds left in the third quarter, Russia held their biggest lead at 56-43.
The closest Greece would get the rest of the way was six points.
"The third period was the key of the game and our poor performance during that time was decisive for the final result," Tsitskaris said.
"In general, I am very satisfied with our effort against a very dominant team. If we look behind, we'll remember that four years ago we were defeated by 45 points against Russia. The seven-point defeat speaks for itself about our progress."
Earlier on Saturday, Australia beat Nigeria 85-73, China hammered Asian rivals Korea 71-54, the United States thrashed New Zealand 99-47 and Brazil destroyed Japan, 128-62.
Spain are playing the Czech Republic in the opening day's final contest.
Elena BARANOVA (RUS) - Forward
Her comment on the game:
"We expected that Greeks would play hard and we didnt think even for a single minute that this would have been an easy game for us. I have played many times in the past against Greek clubs, such as Sporting, and I know that they are real fighters."
Dimitra KALENTZOU (GRE) - Guard
Her comment on the game:
"We have to put this game behind and focus on beating Nigeria and Japan in order to qualify in the quarterfinals. Today we proved that we have the potential to compete even against the Russian team, which is the 2003 European Champion. We looked them in the eyes for at least 30 minutes but we didnt managed to avoid some crucial mistakes which prevented us from winning the game."
Giorgos TSITSKARIS (GRE) - Head Coach
His comments about the key of the game:
"The third period was the key of the game and our poor performance during that time was decisive for the final result. In general, I am very satisfied with our effort against a very dominant team. If we look behind, we will remember that four years ago we were defeated by 45 points by the Russian Federation. The seven points deficit of tonights result speaks for itself about our progress."
|Press conference quotes:|
Anastasia KOSTAKI (GRE) - guard and topscorer for Greece (17 points)
On the game:
"I believe we fought well, playing against a European superpower in Women's Basketball. I am statisfied; we were well prepared for this game and it was evident on the floor. I think the game was lost on rebounds, as it is too hard to control the boards against such a tall team. We will continue with the same spirit and I am optimistic about the upcoming games."
Georgios TSITSKARIS (GRE) - coach
On the game:
"I want to congratulate the Russian team on their win. We played fairly well, but with an opponent such as Russia no mistakes are allowed. Unfortunately, we lost our concentration in the third quarter, Russia reacted and then it was too late to come from behind. We have four more games to achieve our goal, which is to get qualified for the quarterfinals, and I am confident that we will play as well as we did tonight."
On their next game against Brazil:
"Brazil is a different team than Russia, and we are a different team than Japan. Tonight we played well against a great team, so I believe we are able to win this game."
Elena BARANOVA (RUS) - captain and topscorer for Russia (16 points)
On the game:
"Greece started very well, with a good crowd supporting them. We finally caught up with our game. The Olympic tournament is different from all other tournaments. Every team wants to win and plays hard. Greece is a completely different team than last year, when we played them in the European Championships. They are very quick and good at the fast break and at three-point shooting, although I believe they could use some more size."
Vadim KAPRANOV (RUS) - coach
On the game:
"Tonight both teams together have created a really interesting game, a fast and tense game that was a good show for the audience. I congratulate the Greek coach for his team and wish him to achieve his goal to get to the final eight."
On the quick fouls picked up by his team and officiating in general:
"Usually, when you play against the home team, you expect them to get some extra calls from the officials. This was not that obvious tonight, but anyway, we are professionals and have to adjust to this also. So we did. At the end, everything went well."
From Jeff Taylor, PA International, Athens