GUARD DUTY REQUIRED FOR ADVANCES

gbw rachael vanderwal 568Great Britain must be on guard against Belarus on Friday if they want to edge closer to the quarter-finals of EuroBasket Women.

It’s the mistakes that kill you. For all the good work put in by Damian Jennings’ side to punch above their weight, turnovers have hindered their hopes.

20 in their loss against the Czechs. An average of 19.8 per game. Many punished. It is partly a casualty of the strategy to run and gun to compensate for GB’s lack of size. But there have been times when even the experienced Stef Collins has struggled against presses and a Plan B has not appeared.

It is something that may need an urgent fix.

“It’s an interesting thing to assess,” Jennings declares. “We had 20 (vs Czechs). We’ve had less in other games. But our style of play is to push it. With the skills we’re developing, we almost have to accept some of those turnovers.

“If we were to play with that energy all the time, you can’t avoid turning the ball over. That’s what the shot clock creates with a pressure situation. But still controlling those is a big part of it.”

Jennings has split time, almost exactly to the minute, between Collins and Vanderwal, with third-stringer Georgia Jones almost forgotten.

“It suits our rotation,” the coach affirms. “Rachael is arguably a starting player. But with the balance we have with two point guards with similar traits but where Rachael accepts her role so well.”

The pair combine for just 2.8 assists per outing, less than Jo Leedham on their own. Both have shown a reticence to penetrate, even on the break. Earning free throws has proven an issue.

The Czechs, with plenty of wisdom, seemed to have figured GB out. Belarus are not as experienced but having already beaten Britain this summer in two early friendlies, they are not coming in blind.

They will also have the twin towers of Yelena Leuchanka and Anastasiya Verameyenka whose size could cause GB all kinds of problems. In their last game, a loss to Serbia, the pair were inexplicably under-utilised. It is hard to imagine that they will not have taken the lessons forward, putting Collins, Vanderwal and the rest of the backcourt core under pressure to deliver offensively.

“We ‘re going to have to attack on the offensive end,” acknowledges Vanderwal. “That’s our game to be up tempo. We’re trying to push it all the time and if we can get the team going that way, it works in our favour.”

Worryingly, Verameyenka was absent when the two teams met in Lithuania last month. Arguably the best shot blocker in European basketball, she will be a lot for GB’s bigs to handle.

“She’s a great player,” admitted Kim Butler. “They’ve a lot of height down low. But that doesn’t scare us or bother us. Most teams are bigger than us. We’ll just go and deal with that. We want to get back to playing GB basketball.”

Which means running. But also for the gunners to fire. GB know one victory from their last two games of the second round – Belarus, and then Croatia on Sunday – should send them into the last eight for the first time.

Thursday was spent studying more video with a light workout in a bid to get back on a winning track.

“We just have to go into practice and learn from what we did wrong: how to come off screens, how to defend that,” Vanderwal added. “The (Czechs) hit a lot of threes and the pick-and-pop was a big problem for us but we just have to get better.”

It has been confirmed that GB forward Ella Clark sustained an ankle sprain in Wednesday’s game against the Czechs and will continue to be treated by British Basketball medical staff in France.

Friday’s other two games in Group F see old rivals Croatia and Serbia square off while unbeaten France take on the Czech Republic.

On Thursday in Lille’s Group E, Spain thrashed Slovakia 80-44, Turkey had a 66-46 win over Italy, and Sweden pulled away late on to grab a 69-58 victory against Montenegro.

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