Ružomberok head coach Natália Hejková celebrates her team's dramatic 67 to 64 double-overtime victory over CJM Bourges of France in the European Club Championship game in Ružomberok on April 6.
Down by three with 15 seconds remaining, Ružomberok drove the lane for an easy two in hopes of crawling to within a point of front-running CJM Bourges of France. But when the lay-up was inexplicably missed, two players from each team scrambled for the lose rebound, batting it around in the air until it was knocked away from the hoop towards Bieliková. Standing behind the three-point line, she calmly let fly with the biggest shot of her career and nailed the three to tie the game with less than 10 seconds left in regulation. The home-team would go on to defeat Bourges 67 to 64 in the European Club Championship game held in Ružomberok.
"I was already programmed to do whatever it took to win, so I knew there was a possibility that I would have to take a shot like that," Bieliková said. " I just got the ball, saw the basket and took the shot - as soon as I let go, I immediately knew it was good."
The home crowd, which had exploded when the shot fell, erupted again when Bourges last second shot fell off the mark. The seesaw battle moved into its first overtime as both tired teams tried to regroup.
Although fortunate to have the home-court advantage, Ružomberok players and management said after the game that the pressure of defending last year's championship made winning this game a bigger challenge than the 1999 title game. Further complicating their efforts was the dominating performance by Anna Kotočová, a 31-year-old Slovak who has played for the French club for the past five seasons. Kotočová, who is also the captain of the Slovak national team, led all scorers with 27 points and nearly led her club to a victory on her native soil.
But in the end, not even her heroic efforts were enough. After battling to a standstill in the first overtime, the two teams finally settled the game in the second extended period when Ružomberok outlasted Bourges by a final tally of 67-64.
"I don't remember ever being involved in a game as dramatic as that one," said Natália Hejková, the drained Ružomberok coach after the game. "Fifteen minutes of that game was like a whole year in the Euro League."
On to the Olympics
The Slovak Women's National Basketball Team will represent their country for the first time in history this summer at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games in Sydney. Of the 12 roster spots for the national squad, Hejková (also the national team coach) said she was certain that 8 or 9 would be Ružomberok players. When asked about the chances of the squad for an Olympic medal, however, her certainty wavered.
"This will be our first time in the Olympics so it will be very very difficult," she said. "We will rely on players like Bieliková, Kotočová, [Andrea] Kuklová, and [Alena] Kováčová."
The players and coaches held a general consensus on who the toughest competition would be: the USA, Russia, Brazil and Australia. Team Manager Beáta Kozmonová said that although the women did not enjoy the international recognition of their competitors, the Slovaks belonged among the world's elite.
"We played the US last summer here in Ružomberok and we only lost by three points," she said. "Three points is not so much, so if we play well and things go our way, I think we have a very good opportunity to win a medal."
The teams also singled out Australia as being a dangerous foe because of the home-court advantage. But Kozmonová put a light spin on that obstacle as well, saying that Slovakia would also have fan support because of Australia's significant Slovak population. If the Slovaks and Aussies meet in the finals, she said, those fans would certainly swing their support to the Slovaks.
"The Slovaks living in Australia would root for Slovakia in a final game against [Australia] because when you are Slovak, you feel it with your heart and everything else," she said. "I think we have a good chance of winning a medal."
Additional reporting by