Yelena Leuchanka scores 17 points to lead Belarus to 70-53 upset of Russia

By Doug Feinberg, AP
Friday, October 1, 2010

Leuchanka leads Belarus to 70-53 upset of Russia

KARLOVY VARY, Czech Republic — Yelena Leuchanka couldn’t stop smiling as the clock ran down.

The Atlanta Dream star had just helped Belarus to its biggest victory in the country’s short history with a 70-53 upset of top-seeded Russia in the quarterfinals of the women’s world basketball championship.

It was the team’s first victory against Russia.

“I need time to absorb this and just enjoy it,” said Leuchanka, who also had nine rebounds and four steals. “This was such a big win for us. We’ve come so close against them before, just never been able to beat them.”

The former Soviet Republic will face the winner of Australia and the Czech Republic in the semifinals on Saturday.

“I think it will be a holiday today in Belarus,” guard Natallia Marchanka said. “We are happy to give this gift to our country, our family and our fans.”

Becky Hammon scored 16 points and Svetlana Abrosimova added 14 to lead Russia (6-1). The Russians cruised through the preliminary rounds, winning by an average of 18 points.

“We are very, very disappointed,” Russia captain Ilona Korstin said. “We played really hard the six games that we won. Today we played really bad, we didn’t play as a team.”

The Belarusians have improved on the international scene in the last few years. They finished third at the European Championship in 2007 and qualified for their first Olympics in 2008. They placed sixth in Beijing.

Trailing by six at the half, Russia scored the first six points of the third quarter on a 3-pointer by Abrosimova, who plays for WNBA champion Seattle Storm, and a nifty three-point play by Hammon of the San Antonio Silver Stars.

Then Yuliya Dureika took over, hitting back-to-back 3-pointer and a layup to make it 44-33.

Olga Arteshenka made a layup to cut the deficit to nine, but the Belarusians (4-3) scored the next 10 points to put the game away.

Dureika finished with 15 points.

Belarus also made a splash at the tournament by wearing dress-like uniforms with shorts. The players made a deal with the strength and conditioning coach that if they beat Russia, he would wear one of the outfits for warmups before the semifinals.

Belarus took a 27-11 lead midway through the first half behind strong shooting. The Belarusians made 12 of their first 17 shots.

Russia rallied back behind Hammon, scoring the next seven points. Her 3-pointer made it 33-24 with 2:22 left in the half. Abrosimova hit another one from behind the arc to make it a six-point game before Yuliya Dureika’s 3 with 21 seconds left gave Belarus a 36-27 lead at the break.

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