The quarter-finals for EuroBasket are underway in Ljubljana. Winners are one step closer to the ultimate goal, while losers still fight to see another day in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT).
Hungary defeats Czech Republic 62-61 (box score)
After a three-day break that saw the Hungarian national team lucky enough to run into me at Lake Bled, they were back in action against the hot-starting Czech Republic. Rest vs. rust was in full effect for the Hungarians, only able to accrue *checks notes* seven points in the first quarter. The majority of this had to do with the fight Czechia brought, with a hardness that accompanied a very safe defensive game plan, but the Hungarians started to find their rhythm in the second term.
Cyesha Goree was back for Hungary and will be pivotal as they continue their campaign into the semi-finals. Her ability to play inside or out opens up so many options for a team that has good (although streaky) shooting and great post play. After catching air on her first three she was able to lead her team in scoring: “You remember the first three? That was like three hours ago! I haven’t played in about a week so, to me, it was just about trying to get my rhythm. I don’t think about that shot, I forget about it because the next time I came down I shot again because I felt the freshness out there. Out of both teams I probably have the most rest of anybody combined so I tried to take that to my advantage.”
The super young Czech outfit had a great tournament and really made Hungary work for the win. Even with Hungary pulling away in the second and third, Czechia were up one with five seconds to play. If it weren’t for a late jimmy from Hungarian Debora Dubei, Czechia would have been through to the next round.
As the Czech Republic build continuity with this team, they can bring consistency to their performances, allowing their strengths to be something they can tap into for 40 minutes every night. If they can string together more stable shooting and develop a more nuanced offensive system then this would work symbiotically with their conservative defensive system. Knowing when to be aggressive and force a turnover or a tie up could be a next step for this team but as for now they’re working on the right stuff and going in the right direction. Overall, the Czech Republic have to be happy with how this tournament went, even though they aren’t able to make it to the semis.
Hungary has balance in their system, mentality and fortitude. They have shown some cracks, however, unable to capitalise on a few comfortable leads. This could prove costly against Spain on Saturday.
Belgium defeats Serbia 93-53 (box score)
The matchup I had been wanting all tournament came sooner than I initially expected. Serbian Jovana Nogić shared some thoughts on the matchup ahead of time: “Obviously they have amazing players, they have a great point guard and a great four. We have to stay true to ourselves, staying true to our game, trying to pressure the ball as much as we can. Not let any easy fast breaks, not let them get into that motion basketball that they play so beautifully. Also, just staying calm, it’s the best mindset we can have going into the game, staying calm and let the game come to us.”
On the flip side, Belgian Julie Allemand said she was ready for Serbia’s aggressive defence: “We know they’re going to be aggressive but if we pass the first line then we will be open, we will have open shots, but the goal is to play our game.”
“It’s just a game, you just wanna play and you just wanna read.” Keeping things simple could be the recipe for success in high-pressure games.”
Allemand’s foresight couldn’t have been more precise as Belgium got past this line with ease, unlocking backdoor and weak side options. Unfortunately for Nogić, Belgium were able to get easy fast breaks and into that motion basketball that they play so beautifully.
A 28-8 Belgium lead at the end of the first turned into 49-31 at the half. It was a wire-to-wire beat down by the Belgians but knowing this Serbian team, they competed until the very end, nobly and honourably. It has been a privilege to watch them fight and I’m happy I get to see them in their OQT game on Saturday. They strung together some patches of textbook Serbian basketball, turning over a team with an offence as connected and fluid as Belgium, but they never came close in this one. It’s the end of the road for their EuroBasket journey, and what a journey it was.
I was wrong in thinking this would be the best game of the tournament, heck, it wasn’t even the best game of the day. Belgium were a class above, they’re well-drilled and talented. Their roster is full of great basketball players with elite basketball IQ and their coaching doesn’t take any shortcuts.
Oh, and Emma Meesseman made history, recording the first triple double in Women’s EuroBasket. I asked her what the lessons moving forward were after her historic performance and her team’s 40 point win: “When you have fun you play such good basketball. Especially with this team, we have a young team. Half of us are really experienced, half of us aren’t. When you bring that all together, energy and experience and I think the whole game we were laughing.
“We were working really hard, we were prepared for it but we were just having fun together. We were happy for each other, I’m just going to remember this as one of the most fun games. At the same time I’m almost thinking about the next game too because it would be a shame to win beautiful like this and then to have a shitty game next game ‘cause we’re dreaming.”
After seeing Hungary’s slow start due to the three-day break I was also sure to ask Meesseman how Belgium were able to come out so hot: “I was tired in the beginning, I did not feel the three-day rest. During those three days, we were preparing each other mentally and physically. We knew Serbia was going to be a physical game, we know they like playing with their hands, they push you. In the past, they dictated how we played and we were just preparing each other for three days. We’re gonna play our game, we’re gonna play fast, we’re gonna play hard, so that’s why it was useful.”
I believe the EuroBasket 2023 champions just arrived from Tel Aviv and made light work of Serbia.
France defeats Montenegro 89-46 (box score)
More of the same from France. They have a winning attitude. It’s like, ‘you can do whatever you want, if we stick to our game plan over 40 minutes we will win.’ Complete and utter beatdown, nothing fancy, no need for highlights, just straight-up basketball. It’s simple basketball on either side for the French, something every team wishes to attain made possible with a compound of talent, experience and coaching. This machine is running on its own, there’s no need for any interference, you live with the result of every game. So far, that has only been wins.
As for Montenegro, they were able to create cracks in the French defence early on, with an element of them playing their own game, something I didn’t see against France in the group phase. They were down 9-7 early on and before you knew it, it was halftime with the French up 44-26. The game had been over for about a quarter and a half at this point.
The two best words I can find for how France look out there are comfortable and reliable. They look like they’re in their natural habitat on the court and there has yet to be a second of the EuroBasket where both teams in the French games aren’t being dictated by France. Their matchup against Belgium should be something to marvel at.
Spain defeats Germany 67-42 (box score)
Spain has come a long way since their game one defeat against Latvia. Their outing against Germany was more in line with the history of basketball for the nation. There was a bit of everything from the Spaniards; confident shooting, attacking the cup, ball movement, transition, team and individual ball. They had an airtight defensive strategy that shrunk the court against a German team who has struggled to get their outside shot going. Spain has all the makings of a final four team, lucky for fans they made it.
As for Germany, they have been fun to follow along with. They’re a coach’s dream and you’d love to be a fan of them.
And by god, are they fuckin German.
They’re organised, disciplined and well-prepared for every opponent. They stick to the game plan, the open player and the best option takes the shot even if that’s the same player three times in a row, but that wouldn’t happen, would it?
Late clock situation? Find Leonie Fiebich. Every. Time.
Someone made the wrong rotation? No. No they didn’t.
They are as emotionless as they are emotional, make or miss, win or lose. Their only losses have come against France and Spain. This team’s flaws as constructed are their inexperience and continuity, two variables they can’t really do anything about. As this team traverses through the 2020s, you need to be there for the ride, I’m already on board. Here’s hoping they win their OQT match on Saturday and we can see them in action in Paris next year.