SPAIN PUSHED, BUT PULL AWAY FROM GB

esp-gb 568Great Britain’s recent run of defeats continued in Murcia with an 80-67 defeat to European champions Spain on Wednesday, but Joe Prunty’s team produced three quarters of basketball that was always energetic and committed and often accomplished, suggesting that an early elimination from Eurobasket might not be the formality previously thought

The Olympic silver medallists were not at their best, sloppy even at times. Yet, paced by a game-high 15 points from Kyle Johnson, it was still a heartening display from Britain after four heavy and troubling defeats.

Their defensive rotations in the first half were much improved, as was the will not to be accept being second-best to their experienced rivals. If not for the habitual array of turnovers, it could have been even more impressive.

However, it was the fifth successive defeat for GB this summer and for the sixth match in succession, they failed to breach the 70-point barrier. With Eurobasket due to start in a week’s time and basic points production the side’s main issue, there has to be concern, but this was a game in which the positives outweighed the result as well as the negatives.

esp-gb 2“I thought we controlled the tempo a lot of the game,” said GB assistant coach Nate Reinking. We controlled the game in the first half and didn’t let them get into their running, which opens the game up for them.”

GB’s first half performance was nerveless and often assured. Gareth Murray was given a surprise first start ahead of fellow Scot Kieron Achara and GB showed great patience on offence against an elite unit boasting the likes of Rudy Fernandez, Marc Gasol and Ricky Rubio.

Five points from Johnson gave GB a 7-5 lead, and after Fernandez gave Spain a six-point spur, GB retook the lead 16-14 on two buckets from Ogo Adegboye. A two on the buzzer from the busy and productive Myles Hesson meant Spain took the first quarter 21-20.

The lead seesawed in the second quarter, much to the crowd’s irritation, as Justin Robinson hit five points and Sullivan hit the team’s second three. GB had five points from Johnson to lead 32-29 before Fernandez and Gasol helped square the game at the interval.

Spain came out with a lot more fluency – Ricky Rubio had two baskets and two assists in the 11-4 run that threatened the game’s first 10-point lead. That never arrived, though, thanks to seven hard-won points from Eric Boateng and a three from Myles Hesson, who exemplified GB’s bench effort.

“Myles came in and did he what he does – boarded well and played great defence,” added Reinking. “Ogo ran the show really well when Andrew (Lawrence) got into foul trouble. Our whole bench played well tonight and if they come in and do their job it’s going to keep us in a lot of ball games.”

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Calderon was a pain for Prunty (FEB)

Spain finally managed the double-digit advantage with a 14-0 run which as they held their visitors scoreless for 5:32, by which time GB looked to be tiring through their efforts.

And GB were left working to avoid an unjustly heavy scoreline as the drums and trumpets belatedly started playing in the crowd.

“There was a lot I liked,” said GB coach Prunty, whose side get an instant re-match on Thursday in Zaragoza.

“There was just one stretch when we struggled late in the third and early in the fourth, and a run we didn’t answer. But I thought we did a much better job defensively. The assists aren’t where we want them to be but I still thought we moved the ball better.

“Where we run into trouble is where we over-dribble. There were times in the fourth quarter where we were had some breakdowns and at the other end, we didn’t protect the paint. But a lot of things were positive. Our ball movement was good. Our defence was better in stretches.

“So we just have to do it for 40 minutes.”

Ricky Rubio had 14 points for Spain, who are now 9-0 this summer, and there were signs of a little fatigue and complacency.

“In the first half, we didn’t know what to do in certain situations,” said Spain guard Pablo Aguilar. “But in the second half, we improved in our shooting and with a more aggressive defence, feeling more comfortable out in the court.”

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Notes: GB Starters: Lawrence, Johnson, Sullivan, Murray, Boateng. Spain starters: Aguilar, Rubio, Fernandez, Claver, Gasol

Alex Marcotullio did not dress and is still recovering from a sprained ankle. But he went through a full workout on Wednesday and expects to be fit for EuroBasket. Ali Fraser did not play for rotational purposes.

Preview

Britain are 0-12 all-time against their Iberian cousins, and although odds have almost been upset twice of late, it is hard to see this being Spain’s unlucky 13. At EuroBasket 2009, the shock was nearly pulled but the opportunity slipped away. At the Olympics last summer, a late rally delivered a threat of surprise but a 79-78 victory was duly secured by the eventual silver medallists.

The Spanish had Pau Gasol and Juan Carlos Navarro then. They don’t now, but their bandwagon has kept rolling, to the point where we might declare them favourites to reign over Europe for the third time in a row.

“We watched them play against France and it was an amazing game,” GB guard Devon van Oostrum revealed.

“Even without those two players, they’re still far and away the second best team in the world. I’m not surprised how good they are. I knew they’d be just as outstanding as before.

“With Pau not playing, it just gives more room for Marc Gasol and he’s dominating the game. They’re always going to be a good team.”

Britain have no such uncertainties, not after heavy losses to Greece, Finland, Poland and Sweden. Head coach Joe Prunty has been openly frustrated as mistakes and mis-cues.

Likewise his players.

The squad must be reduced from 13 to 12 after Thursday night’s re-match with the Spanish in Zaragoza. There can, surely, be no more than one spot left undecided.

Prunty has brought back Liam Potter but will most want to see Andrew Lawrence prove his fitness with the playmaker expected to return. Alex Marcotullio is another concern, although he has responded to treatment. In all likelihood, there are just 80 minutes left of action before Slovenia and still plenty to work on if the machine is to function at its best.

“We’ve learnt a lot from our last few games,” said van Oostrum. “But the focus is still on trying to get as much out of these two games against Spain as we can.” Less turnovers, better shots, better defence, some consistency. You name it, Prunty needs it.

Van Oostrum will be watched closer than most, as he casts a brief look ahead to what could be a pivotal season in the ACB back at Kutxa Laboral. The MVP of the U20 European Championship has blown hot and cold with his shooting but looked increasingly controlled with the ball. His match-up with Ricky Rubio, with whom he shares some instinctive approaches, could be a barometer for the future.

There have been no specific directions handed his way.

“Nothing,” the 20-year-old confirms, “has been set in concrete yet. Just to be a leader and keep control of the team. I have to keep my turnovers down and run the team a little bit. It’s something I need to learn and I think it’s going to be good for me.

“The one thing I’ve need to learn over the past couple of years is running the team. So this is a great opportunity.”

There will be one other landmark with captain Drew Sullivan making his 100th appearance, spanning his time with England and then with Great Britain.

But the game may also bring some signs of what lies ahead at EuroBasket. Germany, one of GB’s chief rivals to make the second round, were thrashed 85-54 when they faced Spain earlier this month.

Even if it is no contest, the benchmarking may deliver some value of note.

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