Landmark first win for Denmark since 1999; Italy start rising up
RIGA (Latvia) - There was elation for Denmark on Sunday night in Riga as they celebrated taking their first FIBA Women's EuroBasket Qualifiers victory since way back in 1999.
The two decade long wait for a victory at this level needed something special and it came in the shape of a monumental 35 point performance from Maria Jespersen, which was the foundation for a 91-74 success against Romania. Firing more points than any other player in a game since the start of the Qualifiers last year, she also recorded 6 rebounds and 3 assists.
"IT WAS A GREAT WIN AND VERY IMPORTANT FOR OUR PROGRAM. IT IS VERY EMOTIONAL" - Maria Jespersen
However, despite her brilliance and leading role, it was a big team effort from the Danes. Gritt Ryder was not far away from a triple-double. She starred with 15 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds, while Emilie Hesseldal was also key with 13 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists.
Jespersen was delighted after the final buzzer and commented: "It was a great win and very important for our program. It is very emotional. We only started up the national team again two years ago and we needed people in Denmark to donate money to help us.
"So it feels really good when we have all sacrificed so much and then you see that things are going in the right direction. We showed that we belong here - on this stage."
Denmark last claimed victory in the Qualifying Round for FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2001, when they beat Ireland 63-62 on May 23, 1999.
The performance against Romania well received by Denmark head coach Jesper Krone who added: "I am very proud of what we did today as we played a good game at both ends.
"We all did a good job and bounced back from the defeat to Czech Republic. This was a nice team effort and a big step for Danish basketball. It is a big positive for all the youth coaches back in Denmark, who have been helping to develop these young players."
Elsewhere in Group D, there was a vital win for Italy as they made it two wins from two during the window to improve their prospects. In beating Czech Republic 69-63, they gained revenge for a defeat in the opening meeting last year and denied their rivals a ticket to the Final Round - for now.
Beatrice Attura chose a good time to have her best game in an Italian vest as she caught the eye and led the way with 20 points, while Cecilia Zandalsini was important in getting Italy onto the front foot in the third period with some terrific buckets. The defeat was harsh on Katerina Elhotova who landed 25 points for Czech Republic.