Facing an inevitable exit at the end of the second round of EuroBasket, Great Britain did not go quietly into the night, losing 62-59 in a thriller to Russia and coming so close to pulling off a shock.

Pride and respect has been earned over these two weeks in Bydgoszcz by the Olympic hosts. The second round was as much as they would have hoped for but Tom Maher’s side can now look forward to London 2012 with no fear that they would be embarrassed.

“I’m proud of the team, and we’d have taken this coming into the championships,” said the GB coach. “But we coughed up two games we should have won, against Lithuania and Russia, and we need to learn from that before the Olympics next year.”

This, you expect, will be the first of many appearances on the European stage. But Britain are still left to look back on opportunities missed, including the chance they had to embarrass the pre-tournament favourites when a victory was within their grasp.

Britain’s pressure defence landed a sucker punch in the first quarter as the Russians – who didn’t practice at the arena on Monday – were left squirming on the canvas, Kim Butler dominating with 9 of her 15 points in a frenetic opening minute spell.

As relentless as Maher’s players were, their lacklustre opponents shared equal responsibility for their own downfall, self-inflicting wounds with one inexplicable missed lay-up after another.

For six minutes and 56 seconds, they failed to score. GB hit 13 unanswered points, capped by Jo Leedham who shrugged off an injury in the pre-game warm-ups. Playing bravely through the pain here, the Cheshire-born swingman has been a true warrior.

20-8 in front at the outset of the second period, Leedham soon converted a fast break which increased the gap to a stunning 25-10 with 8:02 left until the break. Four of Russia’s rotation were a combined 0-17 from the field.

Eventually, their slump had inevitably to end. A 12-2 run before half-time trimmed the deficit to 27-22 as Maher urged his team to retain its focus.

The momentum stayed with the under-pressure Russians. Maria Stepanova closed a 6-0 that put her side ahead. Julie Page stopped the rot with Britain’s opening score almost 3 minutes into the third and it became a poker game, each side waiting to see who would fold first as they exchanged baskets.

Stafford had 14 points, including 10/10 FT (Map Photos)

Leedham hit another three as GB broke free from a 41-41 deadlock and then Nat Stafford hit two free-throws when Ilona Korstin was called for an unsportsmanlike foul.

Russia swooped to cut the gap to 46-43 entering the fourth but the underdogs were not going out without a scrap. Butler stole possession from Stepanova as the Euroleague legend elevated under the basket, sped up court to feed Page who drew a foul.

Stepanova’s protests earned a technical. Stafford followed Page and was perfect.

With Butler hitting four more from the line, GB led 54-45 with 5:33 left.

Russia charged. A 9-0 run ignited their challenge. Eventually Svetlana Abrosimova hit 1/2 to level at 57-57 with 1:29 left.

Having come so far, a defensive breakdown was costly.  Elena Danilochkina – who scored a game-high 16 – hit a three-pointer from the corner as her side edged in front with 48 seconds left.

Maher called time-out. One last push was called for. But Rachael Vanderwal committed a turnover and Abrosimova ran clear to score.

So close again but so far. And although Korstin was ejected for throwing an elbow at Stafford, allowing the guard to bring GB with 62-59, it was not enough as the Russians edged, unconvincingly, into the last eight.

“It’s so disappointing,” said Butler. “We really felt we could win this after that first quarter. We’ll take the positives from this and the other games here. we have to. But it was like against Lithuania. To come so close is hard.”

Maher will now begin his own Olympic preparations, beginning with an assistant’s role at the World University Games next month where a handful of candidates for promotion will be examined.

He is used to winning. Here, he conceded his side, cursed by late turnovers, gave up one that should have been theirs.

“It was disappointing but it was what it was, we didn’t do enough to win,” said Maher. “We don’t have the experience and the poise to win games like this down the stretch, but we’ll only get that by playing in these type of games.

“When you’re totally outmatched in the paint, but are eight up with four to play, that has to be a positive. But from there on, we couldn’t get a decent shot up.”

Stef Collins became the first GB player to earn 75 caps in the tie.

Turkey joined Lithuania and the Czech Republic in the knock-out stages which begin in Lodz on Wednesday with a stunning 65-56 win over Belarus. The Czechs took top spot with a 63-59 victory over Lithuania.

Maher happy with progress

Maher has branded his team’s EuroBasket campaign as an “unqualified success”. And with the Olympics next on the agenda, Maher has now seen proof that his side is not out of place at the highest level.

“The fact we’re sitting here in the second round is a success,” said the Australian. “We won one game here and we should have won two by beating Lithuania. That’s a huge leap for us.

“We didn’t deserve to beat Turkey. But we know we’re a good team because we now have a chance to beat the Turkeys of this world one time out of ten. And that’s going to stand us in good stead for the Olympics.”

Julie Page has been among GB's successes (Map)


Group E. Great Britain 59 Russia 62, Czech Republic 63 Lithuania 59, Turkey 65 Belarus 56

Sunday: Group F: Latvia 70 Montenegro 74, Spain 71 Croatia 75, France 58 Poland 54

Final standings

Group E

Team P W L F-A Pts
1. Czech Republic 5 4 1 301-286 9
2. Lithuania 5 4 1 331-298 9
3. Russia 5 3 2 326-317 8
4. Turkey 5 2 3 303-313 7
5. Belarus 5 2 3 285-291 7
6. Great Britain 5 0 5 264-305 5

Group F

Team P W L F-A Pts
1. Montenegro 5 5 0 364-308 10
2. Latvia 5 3 2 315-310 8
3. France 5 3 2 347-281 8
4. Croatia 5 2 3 300-361 7
5. Spain 5 2 3 327-340 7
6. Poland 5 0 5 279-332 5

(Top four qualify for quarter-finals)

QF match-ups: Montenegro vs Turkey, Latvia vs Russia, France vs Lithuania, Croatia vs Czech Republic



Main Pic: Map Photos

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