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Go-time for Italian ace Zandalasini after ending her drought in Nis
BELGRADE (Serbia) - It's been a vastly different Final Round this time around for Italy's most famous face at the FIBA Women's Eurobasket 2019.
Push the rewind button back two years ago and Cecilia Zandalsini was the name on everybody's lips as she posted one of the most productive and eye-catching debuts the event has ever seen.
Such was her impact in just about every facet of her game, she was soon on a flight across the Atlantic to not only make her WNBA debut, but also secure a Championship ring with the Minnesota Lynx.
Since then, she has moved from Famila Schio to Fenerbahce and endured mixed fortunes, winning the Turkish Championship but missing out a first EuroLeague Women Final Four.
Perhaps a carry-over from a club season when she couldn't quite get started and find any real rhythm, one of the most talented players on the planet struggled badly during the first couple of game days in Nis.
It was about as far away as you could imagine from what happened in Czech Republic as Zandalasini went 8 of 29 in the first two group games. Then, in the contest against Slovenia she struggled again during the early stages.
But, cream always rises to the top. She made a trademark long two in the third quarter and it was like flicking the light switch. It was a classic Zandalasini pull-up - high-arching and nothing but net, but there was a new twist to the end of the shooting motion.
It came in the form of a big shout of relief and was also accompanied by a passionate punch through the air. It screamed 'finally' to everyone inside the arena and to those watching the action on the screen. This is not a player used to such shooting slumps.
But the real character, class and quality of top level players are surely best gauged not during the smooth times and the peaks - but during the troughs.
"I am just trying to stay positive and to keep doing the right thing," declared Zandalasini.
"I think my teammates know that I am struggling with my shooting and that is exactly what the stats say. Although sometimes numbers can lie, but I will stay being aggressive on defense, making plays and getting rebounds."
The 75-57 victory took Italy to second place in Group C and has raised spirits of the entire group, with Zandalasini quick to jump on the impressive work of some of her national team colleagues, while she rode out her drought.
She said: "It was a really important win for us after the loss we had against Hungary. Our emotions were a little bit down. This was an important win also for our feelings and I think this is the right way that we need to play.
"We finally scored more than 70 points and our offense was getting energy from our defense and this is what we have been working on for the past month.
"My other team-mates were amazing and especially Martin Crippa and Francesca Dotto - they both did a really great job on offense and also on defense as well."
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Moving on to Belgrade, Italy now face Russia in the Qualifications for the Quarter-Finals and perhaps it is time for Zandalasini to show the form that we all know her so well for. The big question is whether the ultimate outcome will be different or it will result in the same painful experience as 2017?
In Czech Republic, it all ended in tears as Italy were pipped for the last ticket to the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup and they will be intent on making sure they don't see their Tokyo 2020 dreams go up in smoke as well.
"I try not to think too much about it, because I think we are a different team to two years ago," revealed Zandalsini.
"So this is a new page for me and a new chapter. I just focus on being really happy to be here with my team-mates and to keep going.
"Russia are a good team but arriving at this stage of a competition at this level, you know that you will meet good teams. I think we just need to prepare ourselves well for the game and we will see what happens," she concluded.