VANNES/TRELAZE (EuroBasket Women/FIBA World Championship for Women) - There were plenty of talking points after the opening day of action at the EuroBasket Women 2013.
Hosts France played an official game in front of their fans for the first time since capturing a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics and blew out Latvia in Trelaze, 62-39.
Heavyweights Russia nearly overhauled an 18-point deficit against Spain but lost 77-72 in Vannes, with Alba Torrens in top form.
Torrens, who blew out her knee in January of 2012, looked as good as new in pouring in 30 points.
Turkey, who already have a spot at the 2014 FIBA World Championship since they are staging the event, cruised to an easy 78-52 win over Ukraine and Belarus showed they could be headed for the podium with a convincing 60-39 triumph over a Czech Republic side that lost Jana Vesela early in the contest to injury.
Two of the best games were between Sweden and Italy in Group B, and Great Britain and Serbia in Group C.
In the second game of the day in Vannes, the gym was packed with Swedish fans wearing the national colors of blue and gold and ringing cowbells.
In an enthralling encounter, Kathrin Ress had 18 points, 14 rebounds and a game-winning block at the death in a 64-63 Italy triumph.
Ress was sensational from start to finish.
The 1.96m center's last final contribution ended up being the most important.
After Sweden were awarded possession on a jump ball with just three seconds left, coach Lars Johansson drew up a play for Frida Eldebrink to drive to the basket, just as she had for much of the game to good effect.
Eldebrink had had an opportunity to tie the game with six seconds left but missed the second of two free-throws, leading to the jump ball situation that ended up giving Sweden the ball back.
After a timeout, Eldebrink received a pass on the left wing and attacked, looking to score or at least draw a foul.
Just as the guard attempted to release the ball, though, Ress stuffed her.
Time expired to preserve Italy's one-point triumph.
Eldebrink led all scorers with 23 points but Ress, with her double-double and game saving swat, was the MVP.
"It was the key game for our group, I think," Ress said to FIBA.com.
"It brings enthusiasm and momentum for the next game."
Italy's strength, Ress said, is that they do not have one star player, even though she sure played like one against Sweden.
"Today it was me, but other players can show up at any given moment," she said.
"Tomorrow, maybe it will be someone else."
It's very early in the competition, yet Ress and Italy know that if they can build some confidence and momentum, good things can happen.
Maybe the team can even entertain the thought of finishing in the top five to reach the FIBA World Championship Women.
If Turkey were to finish in the top five, then being in the top six would be good enough.
"There are only two players on this team that played in 2009, when we just missed qualifying (for the 2010 FIBA World Championship for Women)," Ress said.
"So I think me and (Raffaella) Masciadri are bringing that idea of 'wanting to go further' and making it to the World Championship or maybe the Olympics."
The Olympics is where Great Britain played last summer, and even though the team came up short of a win in their five games, the squad gained invaluable experience.
The Brits needed all of that to overcome Serbia in the day’s first game at Trelaze in Group C.
Trailing 59-52 going to the last frame, the Brits battled back and prevailed, 76-68.
Azania Stewart and Stephanie Gandy poured in 13 points apiece for the Damian Jennings-coached team.
The British took the lead for good with 3:18 to go on a three-ball from Rachel Vanderwal.
Croatia, fresh off their Olympic debut last summer, hit the ground running in France by winning 89-77 over Lithuania.
Iva Sliskovic had 19 points and Jelena Ivezic 17 for the victors.
Montenegro pulled away from Slovakia in the second half and won 77-63, with Jelena Dubljevic pouring in 20 points.
All teams are in action on Sunday.