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Pride on the line for Turudic's Serbia
Sopron (FIBA U18 Women's European Championship 2017) - One of the most heartwarming moments thus far of the FIBA U18 Women's European Championship happened behind the scenes. In the aftermath of Serbia's convincing loss on Day2 to Spain, news spread that their U18 men's team had claimed the title against, coincidentally, Spain.
The women's team were on the court doing post-game stretches but suddenly sprung to life when they heard of the momentous news. There was dancing and triumphant screams almost as if they had claimed the championship themselves. Moments later, the whole team was huddled around a laptop on the media bench to watch the celebrations unfolding in Bratislava.
Just days later, it was their turn to bask in celebration. They weren't celebrating a title but, nonetheless, Serbia claimed a thrilling 66-60 victory over Latvia in the Round of 16 to setup a quarter-final against Slovenia.
Serbia let slip a big early lead and led by 1 point with 22 seconds left until Nevena Naumcev hit a clutch three-pointer in the defining moment of the game. Following the buzzer, the players were understandably euphoric after many pundits had predicted Serbia would not reach the quarters.
Of course, Serbia have long been a basketball powerhouse but it hasn't been a great summer for their women's teams. Struggling to defend their title, Serbia disappointingly finished 11th at FIBA EuroBasket Women and 9th at the FIBA U20 Women's European Championship last month.
Pride is hoped to be restored with the performance of Serbia's U18s, who have showcased plenty of energy and enthusiasm already in the tournament. Perhaps they aren't the most talented team in the competition but Serbia have innate passion and self-belief.
They scrap and fight hard but those hardworking characteristics shouldn't undersell them. Serbia have a talented roster, highlighted by shooting guard Teodora Turudic who starred against Latvia with 21 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists.
The recently turned 18-year-old is her team's barometer having also starred in Serbia's lone Group Phase win against Croatia with 20 points. However, she failed to crack double digits in losses against Spain and Sweden - teams who closely checked the Serbian star.
If Serbia are going to advance further, Turudic knows she will have to perform to a level akin to her performance against Latvia. "I felt mentally strong in this game and I wanted to make the right plays for my team knowing it was like a final for us," she says.
Turudic says the victory over Latvia has instilled self-belief in the team. "Until now, we had played inconsistently but we are very happy with the performance against Latvia," she says. "We will not stop here, we want to get better and go deep in the tournament."
After disappointing recent results from Serbia's national women's teams, Turudic says her teammates hope to restore some basketball pride. "It is very important for us to do well here," she says. "Some of the results haven't gone Serbia's way in the other tournaments, so we want to do well for our country and we will play with a lot of pride. Anything is possible for us in this tournament if we believe and fight hard."