Great Britain’s women lost 82-51 to the Atlanta Dream as they played on home soil for the last time this summer at the MEN Arena.

And Tom Maher and his coaching staff must ponder their final 12-strong squad for the Eurobasket finals, now that they have played their last friendly before the cuts are made.

The Brits – led by 12 points from Kim Butler – were well beaten. But there were still glimmers of promise. It was always going to be an awkward encounter. Dealing with adversity is a useful lesson.

“The focus for us was on taking steps forward,” said Britain’s captain Julie Page. “They’re just physically and athletically on another level from us. But that was a good challenge for us to use our basketball brains to work out how to counter that.”

GB did edge into the lead but it was a false dawn. Once Butler had converted a long jump shot, Coco Miller ignited the visitors and any British optimism was ruthlessly punctured.

Butler: She Did It

Miller, who played for Maher in Washington in his lone WNBA coaching stint in 2001, hit 7 of her game-high 21 points in a 9-0 run and then the Dream soon hit six more unanswered to lead 15-4 as GB were made to look rigid by the speed of their opponents.

The turnovers piled up. The pressure was unsettling. Lindsey Harding, Atlanta’s main off-season acquisition, capped another late flurry. If not for successive scores inside from Azania Stewart, the deficit could have been greater than 26-12 at the end of the first quarter.

23-year-old Stewart, who plays at the University of Florida, was unafraid to use her size inside. She notched the first 3 points of the second as GB raised their defences. Chantelle Handy made it 28-17 and it cause Dream coach Marynell Meadors into a time-out.

She lit another fire. The 2010 WNBA Finallists, even without their star Angel McCoughtry, scorched GB with a 11-2 close to the half, Sandora Irvin capping the flurry to snare an imposing 39-19 lead at half-time.

Butler twice cut the gap to 18 at the start of the third period but Britain’s resistance slowly faded and Atlanta took full advantage, imposing themselves at both ends.

Miller began a 8-0 burst to push the gap to 51-25 with six minutes to go until the next interval and the momentum kept swinging in their favour. Page hit six points but the resistance proved futile. Harding hit another three and then Miller made it 63-34 headed into the fourth.

Maher, incessantly nursing his team from the sidelines, had forecast the impossibility of matching the might of a WNBA line-up. Out-matched, and curtailed by Atlanta’s stifling defence, the Australian had admitted that it would be the performance which mattered from then the result as he builds towards Eurobasket.

Page and Butler refused to give up, throwing her bodies to the cause here. Stewart, despite her inexperience, might be a valuable totem in Poland. Roz Mason, rejuvenated, has taken the opportunity to court return to favour. With just two more friendlies to impose his will, Maher still has work to do.

He will closely monitor the fitness of Jo Leedham, whose sole involvement in Manchester was to welcome a 2000 strong crowd before the game. If cleared to return, she might yet be an effective spark in short bursts off the bench.

It remains an if. Maher, at least, has got his fit players available to scrap. The usefulness of this exercise will soon become apparent. Headed towards the national team’s first-ever major championship, GB will now know the standard which will be required when they meet Belarus on June 18.

A further 8-0 burst underlined the Dream’s dominance in the closing minutes and despite a late 5-point cameo from Rose Anderson, Atlanta’s goodwill tour ended on the high they sought.

“They probably have better athletes and they probably have better talent,” said Page, who added 10. “But we had to say: ‘hold on, we have some weapons too’. Obviously athleticism wasn’t an advantage. But I thought that in the second half, we stopped them better and used our brains.”

Time, now, for Maher and his staff to rack theirs.

GB-Atl: (12-26, 7-13, 15-24, 17-19)

Notes: Atlanta out-rebounded GB 31-26. There was a moment of silence before the game for former WNBA and Poland centre Margo Dydek who died last week.

Photos: NBAE via Getty Images,

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