There’s no margin for error on Sunday for Great Britain at EuroBasket Women. But even their best might not be enough.
The permutation is straightforward yet GB’s destiny is not in their own hands. If Serbia beat the Czech Republic earlier in the opening game in Vendee, they will book their spot in the quarter-finals and leave their rivals to begin planning their journey back across the Channel.
The British must pray for a Czech victory. That would leave the door to the last eight open. Then, and only then, would a defeat of the Croats allow Damian Jennings’ side to survive by coming fourth in Group F.
Leaving the court following Thursday’s disappointing loss to Belarus, it was not the result which most bothered Jo Leedham. Coming off second-best to a better team is just about tolerable. Coming off the floor, knowing the performance was short of what is possible, is a much greater frustration.
And make no mistake, the wiser, experienced Leedham is not hiding what she sees are the opportunities squandered to live up to the collective potential.
“It’s execution and that goes along with IQ,” said the Bourges guard. “When you play at this level, there are very smart players. You make mistakes, you get punished for it. And we don’t seem to be there yet.
“A year ago, it was the same situation. I feel like I don’t know why these mistakes are happening still but we really have to learn from it and move forward.”
The problem is one of focus, she hints. With one EuroBasket, and Olympic Games, and a number of qualifying campaigns behind most of this group, there cannot be too many excuses. At this level, with so much at stake, every possession counts.
GB, quite simply, are not good enough to take any time off.
“With execution, even if they hit a shot, we should be trying to get a great shot at our end,” Leedham asserts. “It doesn’t matter what they just did or what the score is. We should be coming and executing our stuff at the other end. And we’re not.
“We have to play smarter than that and stop worrying about what happened in that play, and just move on, and just execute the next time down the floor.”
Jennings has been openly concerned about the implementation of his run and gun strategy. Against Belarus, his team took less shots than he would have wished. Slowing down the game is not a strategy which he believes will take them into the next round.
Still, his side have over-performed offensively in the paint. Their bench has stepped up. Where they’ve come out on top in the rebounding battle, it has made his life easier. The Croatians have some size and some speed but with the elimination already certain, their mentality is a mystery.
Regardless, the GB head coach adds, it remains pace which is key.
“Against the Czechs, what was disappointing is that we took 50 field goals and they took 62. We should be taking 15 or more than any opponent because of our style. When we don’t, then it makes it hard for us to be involved in the end game.”
By the time his team arrives at the Vendespace, Jennings – who should have Ella Clark back available – will know if hard has become impossible in the real end game here in France.
Serbia have improved immensely since their loss to GB in the opening round. The Czechs have re-grouped since the tournament-ending injury to Jana Vesela and remain a force. It could go either way.
Should a Czech win hand GB their shot, the prize on offer cannot become a distraction.
“Pressure will only exist if we put it there,” Leedham declares. “It’s a basketball game. We don’t know Croatia will approach it. But we have to put our foot on their throat and take these two losses to heart.
“We haven’t done our country proud yet, not 100%. And we have one last chance to do it. I take full responsibility for Sunday, to go out there and show our country what we’re about, what is our brand of basketball. Because this could be our last chance.
“We might not ever get into a EuroBasket again. You just don’t know. So we need to start playing like that. We need to take some responsibility for our culture of basketball and play hard.”
The third game in Group F on Sunday sees unbeaten France take on Belarus, with both teams – plus the Czechs – already assured of their spot in the quarter-finals, which start on Wednesday in Orchies.
In Saturday’s action in Group E, Spain and Turkey remain unbeaten – and one of them would be GB’s quarter-final opponent if they progress.
Sancho Lyttle had 21 points and 11 rebounds as Spain swept past Montenegro 66-50. Turkey took a 72-51 win over Sweden while the Italians claimed a 58-47 victory over Slovakia with the four imperfect sides all still with a chance of surviving past Monday.
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