SPAIN, JUST, SHAKE OFF GB

Great Britain were squeezed out by Spain, losing 67-59 at EuroBasket.

However, just as on their previous meeting five days before, it was an exhilarating contest of shifts and shots and slender margins.

Chema Buceta’s side, once more, thwarted at the bitter end with a 10-2 run required from the defending champions over the last 87 seconds to survive. A performance of impudent brilliance from the underdogs, yet without ultimate reward.

Now GB head to Sunday, and a last group game in Riga against Ukraine. Basket difference should give them ample comfort. But they will want to end this phase with a 2-1 record and second place in their pool with a defeat still leaving them vulnerable to an exit.

Off this, no-one beyond this point will not fear them a little, if not greatly.

“I don’t think Spain can say they were out there trying things,” Buceta said. “They were out there going 100%. We were in there until the last minute. Of course, they have more experience and in the last minute that was a key factor.

“But we were there. They got silver in the Olympic Games. Third in the World Cup. But we were there to compete.”

 

Buceta had kept some tricks up his sleeve from last Sunday’s unexpectedly narrow reverse in Madrid, the wily old dog that he is.

A start for Stef Collins. Deeper forays onto his bench. Pressure from Temi Fagbenle – who collected a team-high 20 points – onto the Spanish guard, a risk worth taking and one that paid off, even at the expense of allowing Astou Ndour some freedom in the paint.

The ball movement was crisp. GB composed. The bench contributing, particularly defensively, with Janice Monakana and Cheridene Green sterling in find ways to hustle and roll.

Level at 14-14 at the close of the first, Fagbenle continued to be the totem and Jo Leedham the decoy with Lucas Mondelo teased into a timeout with 5:02 left in the second.

Karlie Samuelson was relentless. She pulled a Supergirl manoeuvre to score while almost horizontal in the air to put GB ahead once more in one of 18 lead changes in the first half which ended with Leedham’s steal finding Fagbenle to secure what would be a 34-31 half-time advantage.

As expected the reigning champions adjusted. Attacked. Accelerated the pace. Their shooters – 1/8 from three-point range before the interval – fought clear of the shackles, just enough.

Samuelson picked up a technical. There were ominous signs of clear and present danger. And the imposing Ndour, who ended with a game-best 23 points, ignited an 11-2 run that ended with an explosive hail mary on the buzzer from Silvia Dominguez that grabbed a 48-43 advantage for La Roja.

If the crowd in Riga was disappointing sparse, those who came got value.

And, eventually, a belated show of strength from the group favourites.

Samuelson converted a three-pointer to open the fourth but it was to be GB’s last score for exactly five minutes as their rivals surged decisively clear with a 9-0 run.

The wind had been let out of the sails. But the current turned dramatically.

“We definitely stuck together,” Fagbenle affirmed. “We showed a lot of passion and we fought all the way to the end.”

At the eighth attempt, Leedham downed a field goal in an astonishing rally that brought points without reply.

The Cheshire-born wing tied matters at 57-57 with 1:58 left. Mondelo forced to call in his troops to remap their plans.

Cristina Ouvina was clutch, hitting a three as the shot clock expired. Buceta trusted in his group. Dominguez, again, proved a thorn with a hook shot that dropped improbably. This time, no comeback arrived.

“In that last minute, they succeeded in scoring better than us,” the GB coach added. “We had our chances. They scored and we didn’t. That’s us. But it is important that we were there, even when we were eight points down in the fourth quarter.”

No moral victory though, Leedham decried.

“I don’t feel like we did play well at all. I’m disappointed. I’m not satisfied to be close to Spain. I expected it to be close and I expected to win that game. But it’s over now. We have focus on Ukraine and let this go.”

Having missed out on a victory that would have propelled them directly into the quarter-finals, now the longer route.  That begins on Sunday in a game which – depending on mathematics – GB might not need to win but will certainly want to in the cause of a better crossover tie on Monday.

“We have to win the next game,” Buceta declared.

UpdatesGame Stats

Elsewhere in Group A, Latvia defeated Ukraine 82-74 to get their first win. Ukraine now 0-2, won’t lack for desperation when they meet GB on Sunday.

Game Notes

GB starters: Collins, Samuelson, Leedham, Handy, Fagbenle.

RESULTS

Group A: Great Britain 59 Spain 67, Latvia 82 Ukraine 74 – Standings: 1. Spain 2-0, 2. Great Britain 1-1,  3. Latvia 1-1, 4. Ukraine 0-2.
Group B: Czech Rep 71 Sweden 64, France 88 Montenegro 53 – Standings: 1. France 2-0, 2. Czech Rep 1-1, 3. Sweden 1-1, 4. Montenegro 0-2
Group C: Slovenia 65 Turkey 55, Hungary 59 Italy 51 – Standings: 1. Hungary* 2-0, 2. Slovenia 1-1, 3. Italy 1-1, 4. Turkey 0-2 (E)
Group D: Belarus 69 Belgium 61, Serbia 77  Russia 63 – Standings: 1. Belarus 1-1, 2. Belgium 1-1,  3. Serbia 1-1, 4. Russia 0-2.

* Advance to quarter-finals,  (E) Eliminated in First Round

Photos: Mansoor Ahmed

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