GB LOSE HEARTBREAKER TO LITHUANIA

Great Britain’s women sustained an agonising 64-63 defeat to Lithuania in the opening game of the second phase of EuroBasket Women after coming so close to an upset.

It was a gutsy, tireless performance from the Olympic hosts. Against a team which has proven itself, they never once looked remotely second best. But a 6-0 close from their rivals in the last three minutes of a thrilling tie saw them home, leaving Tom Maher’s side to ponder the golden opportunity that had, literally, slipped through their fingers.

“It was a tough game and I think as a team, we didn’t come out and play the kind of tough defence we played during the first three games,” said Nat Stafford.

“We had lapses right throughout which killed us, especially in the last three minutes, and that is why Lithuania got away with winning the game by one.”

Julie Page hit  the first three of her game-high 19 points to put her side 5-4 ahead before Lithuania promptly reeled off a 9-2 run. Dam burst? Not quite. Kim Butler, on her 50th international appearance, converted an offensive rebound that was to become a hallmark of a dogged performance on the glass from GB’s front line.

Down 16-15 at the end of the first quarter, Maher’s side went ahead when Page seized a pinpoint pass from Stafford and laid the ball in, the lead ebbing back and forth before the Lithuanians surged 28-23 clear.

Again, GB responded, hitting 5 straight points to tie and then securing a 32-30 half-time lead through the outstanding Butler.

Coming off the bench, GB captain Jo Leedham was a spark plug. Page was everywhere with Azania Stewart standing tall off the bench. No chance to grab a loose ball went uncontested. And even turnovers from the backcourt were cancelled out by those forced.

Julie Page played brilliantly but had a fatal turnover (Map Photos)

The Lithuanians looked rattled. Needing just one victory to qualify for the quarter-finals, they had been expecting to coast. Instead they had to dig deep.

Sandra Linkeviciene polished off a three-point play to cap a 8-0 run which took herside 42-40 ahead with 4:07 left in the third. Leedham, again, had an answer.

Draining a three, she started and finished a 9-4 burst as Britain edged ahead again, holding onto a slender 49-48 cushion entering the fourth.

It was Stafford’s turn to shine, igniting a 7-2 run that kept hopes of a stunning upset a alive. With 5 minutes left, the underdogs were 61-55 clear. Despite signs of fatigue and a damaging fourth foul acquired by Butler, the finishing line was within sight.

The shots began to fall just short. Lithuania closed, slowly. With 44 seconds left, Egle Sulciute went to the line and hit 2/2 to put her team 64-63 ahead.

Leedham drove into traffic and could find no way through. Chantelle Handy could not find the net. And with three late turnovers to profit from, Lithuania made their move to steal the show.

And although GB looked set to have one last offensive opportunity, Page coughed up possession in the dying seconds to thwarted her side’s ambitions and they must now defeat Russia on Saturday to have any hope of reaching the last eight.

“Julie was our best player but that was just a ridiculous mistake as she was trying too hard to get a result,” said Maher.

“And that is a time when you have to play team basketball. That was one mistake and it looks bad for Julie but she was still our best player. We made three horrendous mistakes in the last minute and you just can’t do that at this level.”

Ausra Bimbaite had 16 points to pace Lithuania, who effectively sealed their spot in the knock-out stage.

Maher’s side now meets Turkey on Saturday in search of a win that would increase their chances of progress.

Thursday

EuroBasket Women, Round 2 (Bydgsozcz). Great Britain 63 Lithuania 64, Belarus 62 Russia 51, Turkey 51 Czech Republic 56

Main pic: MAP

 

 

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