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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

With a Lyttle help, Spain Could Do Great things at the FIBA Women’s World Basketball Championships

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Photo Caption: Spain expects a substantial contribution from newly minted Spanish citizen Sancho Lyttle (Atlanta Dream) who will join their line-up at center. The 6-4 Lyttle, who averaged a near double-double of 12.8 points and 9.9 rebounds per game for the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream this season, helped lead her team to the Eastern Conference Championship before falling to Seattle in the WNBA Finals. On top of her relentless rebounding and solid inside presence, Lyttle will bring youthful energy to a Spanish team whose major stars, are, for the most part, in their mid-30s.

Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Jeff Faddis

By Bert Larsimont

From Sart-Eustache, Belgium

Four years ago, just before he 2006 FIBA Women’s World Basketball Championships were going to begin, our overview of the changing landscape of European and international women’s basketball was titled, Spain Emerging as a Future European Power.

Today, as tip-off for the 2010 FIBA World Championship draws near, that assessment has never been so true. Spain remains a very atypical favourite team in the world competition. Spanish Head Coach Juan Ignacio Hernandez can count on very strong guards and forwards like Amaya Valdemoro, Silvia Dominguez, Laia Palau, Nuria Martinez and Elisa Aguilar, and he now has the post player Spanish teams of the past were missing in WNBA star Sancho Lyttle.

Any opponent would be wise watch out for the Spaniards who have lost one and won one against reigning world champion Australia in recent exhibition play, making the case that under the right circumstances, they can beat anyone. The Spanish have an uncanny ability to take advantage of their opponents’ weaknesses and a knack for finishing the job once they gain the advantage.  Competitors who look past them will do so at their own peril.

At the Eurobasket 2007, for instance, the Spanish team finished second, beaten by the Russian in the final. Though Spain did not capture gold, Spanish star Amaya Valdemoro was honored as the 2007 Eurobasket Women’s MVP for her terrific tournament and amazing performance in the final. Valdemoro, a great floor leader, had 26 points and eight rebounds as Spain battled back from a 20-point deficit at half-time to fall to Russia by just four points, 69-65, in the championship game.

More recent performances by the Spanish National Team have also looked very impressive: Spain finished fifth overall at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China, and took the bronze medal in the Eurobasket 2009 final round in Riga, Lavia. In 2009, European basketball analysts expected the Spaniards, then coached by Evaristo Perez, to contend for a podium finish. Unfortunately for the Spanish squad, forward Amaya Valdemoro was injured before the competition (edema). Nevertheless, Spain booked tickets to the 2010 World Championship thanks to their third place in Eurobasket 2009.

Valdemoro is a key player on the Spanish roster, but she is certianly not the only one. Since last June, Perfumerias Avenida Salamanca and Atlanta Dream standout Tracy Constance Sancho Lyttle has been awarded Spanish citizenship by naturalization. Lyttle, a natural-born citizen of Saint Vincent and Grenadines who recently helped carry the Atlanta Dream to the WNBA finals with her outstanding rebounding and low-post play, has signed with Perfumias Avenida for next season (2010-11), and is expected to contribute substantially to the Spanish National Team.

Spain will play Brazil, South Korea and Mali in Group C of the 2010 World Championship’s first round in Brno, Czech Republic. Some of the first and eight-final rounds’ action will take place at the Hala Vodova in Brno. The knockout stages will then unfold at the brand new KV Arena in Karovy Vary.

As far as the preparation before the 2010 FIBA World Championship is concerned, Spain played well in the Tournament of Lugo, Galicia, Spain, where they hosted Belarus, France and Greece from September 2-4, 2010. Spain did not have Lyttle, who was still completing her WNBA season, on hand for that warm-up, but were led offensively by Valdemoro with 14 points and Pascua with 12 points as they routed Greece in the opener, 80-39.

Spain encountered more difficulty the following day against Belarus, but ultimately prevailed, 68-65, thanks to an amazing shot from downtown by Laia Palau at the buzzer. The last game in Lugo ended up as a 59-65 loss for the Spaniards against France, the European champions, despite a great offensive effort by Ana Montañana (16 points) and Valdemoro (17 points).

A little over a week ago, Spain traveled to Hartford, Connecticut in the USA where they faced Australia and Team USA. The Spaniards, again without Lyttle and again led by Montañana (15 points) and Valdemoro (22 points), schooled the Opals (87-74) at the University of Hartford’s Chase Arena. In fairness, the Opals were without Lauren Jackson who was busy leading the Seattle Storm to the WNBA championship and Penny Taylor who had just joined the Australian National Team after a WNBA postseason with the Phoenix Mercury that ultimately ended in a loss to Seattle in the Western Conference Championships.

The next day at the XL Center in Hartford, Team USA defended particularly well and did not allow Valdemoro to score much. The American side gave no chance to Spain despite nice efforts by Ana Montañana (21 points) and Alba Torrens (13 points). Laia Palau and Nuria Martinez hit great shots from three-point range to bring the Spanish team back at 68-63 in the last quarter but stellar, and physical, play by the Americans in the final minutes of the game, carried them to victory with an 85-69 final score.

Spain finish its preparation campaign on September 17 and 18 with an exhibition tournament in Salamanca. The Spaniards easily defeated Senegal, 77-46, in their opening game, behind 17 points from Alba Torrens, 14 points plus nine boards from Cindy LIma, and 12 from Marta Fernandez. Valdemoro (nine points, seven rebounds), Montañana (11 points, eight rebounds) and Palau (0 points, three boards, four assists) had quiet nights by their usual standards, but Coach Ignacio Hernandez had to have been pleased by the balance and multiplicity of scoring sources.

With the win, Spain advanced to the championship game against Australia, who had beaten Team USA in their opening day game. The Australians got their revenge for the drubbing the Spaniards had given them in Connecticut, handing their hosts an 85-64 loss in front of their home fans. Spain, still playing without Lyttle, were out-sized by the Opals (still without Jackson and Taylor, but featuring 6-8 teen phenom Liz Cambage), who won the battle of the boards, 39-23.

Spain still got solid efforts from Montañana (12 points) and Lucila Pascua (10 points), but the Australian defense did a good job of neutralizing Valdemoro and Palau.

The final Spanish Women’s Basketball National Team roster for the 2010 FIBA World Championships will consist of the following players:

PlayerHeightDOBClub TeamPrior National Team Selections
Elisa Aguilar1.72 m.Oct. 15, 1976Rivas Ecópolis168
Nuria Martinez1.74 m.Feb. 29, 1984Ciudad Ros Casares102
Marta Fernandez1.79 m.Dec. 21,1981 Ciudad Ros Casares97
Anna Cruz1.76 m.Oct. 27, 1986Rivas Ecópolis24
Amaya Valdemoro1.81 m.Aug. 18, 1976Rivas Ecópolis205
Laia Palau1.78 m.Sept. 10, 1979Ciudad Ros Casares145
Ana Montañana1.86 m.Oct. 24, 1980Perfumerías Avenida92
Alba Torrens1.85 m.Aug. 30, 1989 Perfumerías Avenida44
Lucila Pascua1.96 m.Mar. 21, 1983Mann Filter Zaragoza150
Cindy Lima1.96 m.June 21, 1981Ciudad Ros Casares59
Sancho Lyttle1.93 m.June 20, 1983Perfumerías Avenida0
Laura Nicholls1.89 m.Feb. 26, 1989Rivas Ecópolis40
Juan Ignacio Hernandez

Despite dedicated work and a solid performance during Spain’s preparatory campaign, guard Silvia Dominguez (1.67 m., born Jan. 31, 1987) of Perfumerías Avenida, who has 51 previous national team selections to her credit, was cut in order to make room on the 12-member final roster for Sancho Lyttle (whose Spanish citizenship has now been granted).

Marta Fernandez is the likely starter at guard, and Ignacio Hernadez will likely field three forwards—Valdemoro, Palau, and Montañana—in his starting rotation. We expected Lucila Pascua to get the starting nod at center, at least until Sancho Lyttle has had an opportunity to be fully assimilated into the Spanish line-up.

Past Achievements of the Spanish National Team

2009: EuroBasket Women Final Round - Riga (Latvia) - 3rd
2008: Olympic Games: Tournament Women - Beijing (China) - 5th
2008: FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women - Madrid (Spain) - 4th
2007: EuroBasket Women Final Round - Chieti (Italy) - 2nd
2006: World Championship for Women - Sao Paolo (Brazil) - 8th
2005: EuroBasket Women Final Round - Ankara, Bursa, Izmir (Turkey) - 3rd
2004: Olympic Games: Tournament for Women - Athens (Greece) - 6th
2003: European Championship for Women Final Round - Pyrgos, Amaliada, Patras (Greece) - 3rd
2002: World Championship for Women - Zhangjiagang, Changshu, Taicang, Wuzhong, Changzhou, Suzhou, Huaian, Zhenjiang, Nanjing (China) - 5th
2001: European Championship for Women Final Round - Orleans, Gravelines, Le Mans (France) - 3rd
1998: World Championship for Women - Münster, Wuppertal, Rotenburg/Fulda, Karlsruhe, Dessau, Bremen, Berlin (Germany) - 5th
1997: European Championship for Women Final Round - Pécs, Zalaegerszeg, Budapest (Hungary) - 5th
1994: World Championship for Women - Adelaide, Hobart, Launceston, Sydney (Australia) - 8th
1993: European Championship for Women Final Round - Perugia (Italy) - 1st
1992: Olympic Games: Tournament for Women - Barcelona (Spain) - 5th  
1987: European Championship for Women Final Round - Jerez, Puerto Santa Maria, Cadiz (Spain) - 6th
1985: European Championship for Women Final Round - Vicenza, Treviso (Italy) - 10th
1983: European Championship for Women Final Round - Miskolc, Zalaegerszeg, Budapest (Hungary) - 11th
1976: European Championship for Women Final Round - Moulins, Le Mont-Dore, Vichy, Clermont Ferrand (France) - 10th
1974: European Championship for Women Final Round - Sassari, Nuoro, Cagliari (Italy) - 12th


Originally published Tue, September 21, 2010

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