Down in Thailand, the FIBA U19 World Championship for Women enters the homestretch as elimination rounds begin with the elite eight remaining.
The good news for European basketball fans: Four European teams – France, Russia, Spain and Lithuania – are still alive in the competition.
The better news: The latter three of these four will be playing in the bottom half of the bracket, thereby not only giving The Continent an excellent shot at a spot in the finals but also potentially producing a sweet matchup in the final four between Spain and Russia. (In fact, the final four here could well end up being the world’s true top four in women’s basketball right now, should Australia and Team USA advance as expected.)
The bad news: Start saying your au revoirs right now to Team France, who tips off against the habitually 100-point scoring red, white and blue machine.
The France-USA game is today’s second after the 1pm match between Australia and Canada. France has been uneven throughout this tournament; though usually playing respectable defense, the offense has often been woeful, bottoming out with a 16-of-70 –that’s just under 23% for those of you keeping score at home – field-goal shooting performance in a 54-42 loss to Lithuania. (Of course, to be fair, Team France followed this with perhaps their strongest performance in the tourney in beating the Czech Republic, 73-58, in a deciding game for both teams.)
Russia gets Argentina at 5.30pm local time. Team Russia kinda sorta backed in to this elimination round, entering the knockout stage on a two-game losing streak. That streak was more like running a gamut, however, with losses to the USA and Spain that were marginally competitive. Argentina has emerged with hard-fought wins against France and Lithuania in pool play and comes into today on a two-game winning streak. If you’re looking for an upset in this round, this might be the best bet.
Finally, Lithuania and Spain will match up in prime time. Lithuania has performed admirably enough, managing a 3-3 overall record in pool play without Aurime Rinkeviciute; one can only wonder where Team Lithuania might be in this tournament right now if their two-guard were around … she just might have been the difference-maker against Argentina on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Team Spain – stop me if you’ve heard this before – continues to dominate the opposition. Aside from one nail-biter against China, Spain has mostly rolled in Thailand. All they’ve done is end Team USA’s eight-year winning streak in the tournament, easily handle Russia in a 70-54 win, and demolish any other team unfortunate enough to face them. Spain enters the elite eight alongside Australia as the undefeateds herein, and many a basketball fan has got to be contemplating a compelling final of Spain versus the survivor of Australia/USA. Stay tuned…