If there were any doubt that Turkey is experiencing a bona fide golden age of basketball, look no further than the FIBA EuroBasket Women championship match tonight. The unheralded Team Turkey will take on pre-tournament favorites/historically dominant Russia in Lodz tonight.
At stake is an automatic bid in the 2012 Olympic Games, but one can’t help imagining both of these sides to be playing in London next year: The losing team is already set to play in the Olympic qualifying round, along with Croatia, the Czech Republic and France.
Turkey overcame defending champions France in the semifinal in a 66-62 overtime thriller, leading to what center Nevin Nevlin calls “a huge moment for Turkish basketball. It’s history. We’re part of it. We’re very proud and we know 70 million people back home are proud of us.”
The upstarts will have to find a way to disassemble the Russian machine, however, but this edition of the team appears not quite as fearsome as some from EuroBasket tourneys past. While Team Russia has gone 6-2 in the tournament overall, two of those Ws came in squeakers over Slovakia and Britain, two teams the Russians were supposed to have well outclassed. On the other hand, Russia did claim an emphatic 80-65 win over Turkey on day three of the competition.
Now, in the spirit of ESPN TrueHoop blogging, a few bullets for you.
• The official FIBA Europe video preview of the match is here.
• Team Russia center Maria Stepanova says that “The main thing is mentality” and reemphasizes that her team has eyes set on the automatic Olympic bid. “[I]n reality, we just do not want to play in the Olympic qualification, because the champion [of the EuroBasket tournament] gets to London directly.”
• Wales takes pride in Haydn Jones, the first Welshman ever to referee at this level of basketball.
• Team Turkey head coach Ceyhun Yıldızoğlu is seeing his three-year plan come to fruition.
• These two teams met have met in this tournament on a couple recent occasions. Back in 2005, Russia won a pool play match in Izmir, 91-87, on the way to the silver medal and an MVP nod for Stepanova. In 2009, Russia again bested Team Turkey in the group round, 74-61.
• Tipoff of the 2011 FIBA EuroBasket Women championship game is set for 8.30pm CET tonight (2.30pm EST) tonight. You can watch live online via FIBA TV for a few Euros.