Serbia Relieved To Throw Race Wide Open

02 July 2012

EUROBASKET WOMEN QUALIFIERS

Serbia celebrate their victory over Montenegro
Serbia would have signed a one-point win over Montenegro going into Saturday's do-or-die game. Once it was over, it took them a while to realise they had done much better than that

By Igor Petrinovic

Serbia played for more than three and a half quarters merely trying to secure an important victory against unbeaten Montenegro in their EuroBasket Women Qualification Round Group B encounter on Saturday.

Once the hosts finally took a firm grip on proceedings in the fourth quarter and the Montenegro players realized they missed their first chance to secure a berth in a second consecutive EuroBasket Women, Serbia suddenly felt they had an opportunity to do a lot more than just win.

"That is when we pushed the pedal a little more," said Serbia head coach Marina Maljkovic.

Her team fought hard, they played with brains and heart, the fans carried them throughout the game and the end result of such a poised performance is reflected in the standings.

Serbia, with a 3-2 record in Group B, now sit second behind Montengro, with Poland at 3-1.

They are still at a disadvantage, but depending on what happens in the Poland vs. Montenegro game next Saturday, it could be enough to simply win their three remaining games in the Qualification Round to go through.

"I always teach my players that the game is being played for 40 minutes. That is what they did on the floor in this game. Every basket in this group can be crucial," Maljkovic explained.

Serbia entered Saturday's game with two away losses, against Montenegro and Poland, and knowing that they have to beat their neighbours to take destiny in their own hands.

They had lost their opening game at Montenegro by 17 points, 85-68. 


FEELS GOOD TO HAVE A FIGHTING CHANCE

Serbia head coach Marina Maljkovic
Serbia could qualify for EuroBasket Women 2013 if they win their remaining three Qualifying Round games, including the decider against Poland. Coach Maljkovic prefers though to keep a lid on excitement

There was a notion in the Serbian camp that 'just a victory' might not be enough for them once all Group B fixtures play out. Nevertheless, Serbia approached the encounter in a panic-free fashion.

"It was a must-win game for us and we were aiming to win it, even if it had to be by only one point," said power forward Jelena Milovanovic, adding that Serbia could simply not afford to depend on results elsewhere and that is what would have happened had they lost to Montenegro.

"We did not focus on the point difference. We were not really hoping to win this big. We were only going for the victory," point guard Tamara Radocaj confirmed the game plan.

Fans and coaches usually have different approaches when their team needs to win, but also needs to do it by as many points as possible.

While fans want their team to erase the deficit as soon as possible, coaches call for patience, as did Maljkovic. And the players followed her lead.

"To be honest, we did not start thinking about the point difference until the last minute," recalls Ana Dabovic.

"There was a timeout with one minute and 15 seconds left in the game, and only then we started thinking about trying to win by more than 17 points. We ended up being one point short, but I hope that will not matter at the end of qualification."

That remains to be seen. Serbia now need to win their remaining three games, including the showdown with Poland in Belgrade on 11 July. Poland still have to face Montenegro at home though.

Serbia now hold their luck in their own hands but Maljkovic remains very cautious.

"We are at the beginning of a process of trying to build something with women's basketball in Serbia. We have now come close to some of our goals, but we have a young team and we have a tough task ahead of us in Switzerland," the coach warned.

Radocaj is optimistic, though: "This was a big pressure game, but we are very happy with our performance. We play as a team, we win as a team and we keep playing better and if we continue to play like this, I am sure we are going to qualify for the EuroBasket Women in France."


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