Great Britain’s EuroBasket title dream is over after losing 63-56 to France in the semi-final in Belgrade.

No disgrace.

No meek exit either, with Chema Buceta’s players doing what they have done all tournament: fought gamefully, performed selflessly and trusted in one another come what way.

On this occasion, it simply wasn’t quite enough, even after they dared to dream when taking an astonishing 13-2 lead.

Experienced and energetic, Les Bleues held their nerve and their form and eventually hauled themselves clear.

The world’s fourth-ranked side kept coming in beligerent waves. That pushed the scales, just enough. But only just to make their fourth successive European final.

The difference? “The depth on their bench,” said Jo Leedham. “They wore us away with the calibre of players. They kept bringing in these Euroleague stars. They wore us away and fatigue hit us a little. They have a lot of experience but they were the better team.”

Onward France go to a final on Sunday against Spain who held off Serbia 71-66.

GB now take on the hosts with third place and a bronze medal on the line.

Disappointment on this evening, yet with the knowledge that this run through, firstly Riga and then into Serbia, has impacted so much and been truly admirable.

Their opponents, however, possess their own abundant strengths and they flexed their muscles valiantly.

“It was very difficult for us to play against them,” Buceta declared. “They’re a top team. They have strengths and in the second half, it was difficult for us to attack, to find the proper shots which is normal against a team like that.

“But France is France and GB is GB. That is the main explanation. But instead of talking about the difference, we should say how is it possible that we are able to play this great game against France? This is the real question. And this is what we have to answer. Because we have great team, great players, great commitment, great teamwork, And this is why we are here.”

Regardless, the best result in British basketball history here with the potential for more if funding and organisation can closely align.

Great Britain threw everything into their ploy of forcing contested shots and scrambling for boards.

After Sandrine Gruda tempted Temi Fagbenle into a quick foul to convert 2/2 from the foul line, the response was speedy.

Chantelle Handy finished off a fast break pass from Jo Leedham for a 6-0 GB run and French coach Valerie Garnier was unnerved enough to call a timeout with 7:58 left in 1st.

Rachael Vanderwal was inspired with a team-high 12 points, polishing off another break soon but significantly, she was putting immense ball pressure on Olivia Epoupa, the engine behind this current France side.

GB were stoic. Three French successive misses under the basket were forced with Leedham fending off what appeared a mis-match with Gruda.

It translated at the other end.

Chantelle Handy’s three-pointer on the wing concluded a 13-0 run before Gruda finally got France’s first FG with 4:08 left in 1st. And having made only one of their first 13 field goal attempts, the 2009 champions didn’t secure an uncontested shot until late in the period when Alexia Chartereau was found open to hit a three.

Summoned, GB’s bench mob did not skip a beat. Cheridene Green forced a deflection and then seized a chance to finish on the break and it took a three from the effusive Marine Johannes – who ended with a game-high 20 points on 9-of-18 shooting, with 5 assists, 5 steals, 4 rebounds on 2 blocks – right at the close of the opening stanza to bring her side back to trail 16-12.

An atypical showing from Garnier’s so far unbeaten side. But in a second quarter of five lead changes, Buceta’s side were tested to the max.

Endy Miyem regained France the lead at the conclusion of a 10-1 run but then Green – a real breakout start at this event – calmly hit two foul shots and then bullied her way inside for a delicate reverse lay-up,.

Handy, the baller supreme, hit another three and although Fagbenle had remained scoreless, her opening gambit was supported by threes from Samuelson and Vanderwal amid eight unanswered points that had GB 31-25 ahead with 3:30 left until the interval.

France still getting few easy shots and struggling with relentless ball movement from GB’s backcourt and it was only when Vanderwal picked up her third foul in a scramble for a rebound, that some room opened with Gruda and Johannes levelling the contest at 34-34 at half-time.

Still, not the script that had been pre-written.

An intense team huddle on court led by Leedham on the court ahead of the second half appeared a rallying cry. A chance beckoning to achieve the once-unthinkable.

Alas, Buceta’s hardy bunch would never lead again.

Pressure was applied with a 6-0 start from their rivals with Gruda highly effective in her match-up with Fagbenle. Marginal. As good a scrap as anticipated. The GB centre, surely still a candidate for MVP here, twisted round her counterpart with her initial 2/9 shooting attested to the challenge posed.

Buceta, arms folded, projecting calm. But surely concerned at slipping tangibly off the pace with Bria Hartley firing a three in a 7-0 burst that pushed the Spaniard into a time-out as they fell 47-38 in arrears.

GB kept holding on. Handy and Vanderwal hit priceless threes as Garnier’s smaller quicker line-up, with Miyem as its fulcrum, posed a multitude of problems.

“They got a lot of offensive boards in the second half,” Samuelson conceded. “That takes a toll when you have to play defence for those extra possessions.

The small cluster of face-painted British supporters willed their side onward to one more stunner, even as they entered the fourth period with a 52-46 deficit to overcome.

As has been shown over the past nine days, and on countless occasions before, GB’s resolve is steadfast.

In this tournament, they have led more than trailed but there was little evident fear.

Fagbenle was working industriously in the paint to force gains and her lay-up, aligned to a converted steal from Leedham, slashed the gap to three with 7:06 left.

Yet France were giving back in kind, particularly efficient in crowding Samuelson out on the perimeter to shut one well-proven route down.

That was as close as they would allow their foes to come again.

And as the fight to ensure survival wound down, there was just no open path with Gruda claiming 11 rebounds and ten points and Miyem scoring 16.

GB, shooting 7/23 from three-point range, were out in the semis. Tough, but fair, but still incroyable.

With with Olympic qualifiers now to look forward to beyond this weekend.

“Once we think about the bigger picture, we’re right there,” Leedham acknowledged. “These teams are definitely respecting us and are nervous about playing us which is what we want. We never had that in the past. We’ll look at the bigger picture but now we need to focus on getting a bronze medal.

UpdatesGame Stats

Game Notes
GB starters: Vanderwal, Samuelson, Leedham, Handy, FagbenleEarlier in the play-offs for Olympic qualification places, Belgium eased past Hungary 72-56 while Russia were stunned 58-52 by Sweden.

Photo: Mansoor Ahmed


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