Great Britain coach Chema Buceta wants his players to perform without fear against Italy tonight in Lucca (1945 GMT).
The consequences of defeat, in reality, are huge. A loss to the group leaders would effectively end GB’s bid to reach next summer’s EuroBasket Women finals in the Czech Republic with just Wednesday’s last qualifier with Albania left.

More fuel for those, like UK Sport, who have lost faith in the sport’s ability to advance on the international stage. Another tournament missed where what is a talented group can get the experience to take their game to the next level.
It is win or bust on some many levels.

“This is elite sport and at some point, you have to face an all or nothing situation,” admitted Buceta. “But you lose or you win and if you’re a top athlete, you have to get used to it. It’s a key moment for the team to see if we are able to get this.”

He has kept the side relaxed since arriving in camp in Manchester last Monday and again in Lucca where Friday’s final practice included in-game schemes but also shooting contests to keep his group of 13 loose.

“Psychology is an important part,” the Spaniard, an academic expert is the field, acknowledged. “What is important is to be calm to rely on your selves, to do your best and try not to be overwhelmed by external stresses because pressure is part of elite sport.”

Italy will qualify and clinch first place with a victory and will surely hope to do so ahead of what could be a midweek date with a desperate Montenegro. They were convincing 60-48 winners when they came to the UK a year ago with Laura Macchi, who will win her 100th cap for the Azzurre this evening, scoring a team-best 27 points and sparking a decisive last push.

Yet Buceta believes his team has improved immensely since his reign began in 2015. Jo Leedham is having another stellar year with Bourges. His bench has deepened with young Savannah Wilkinson, bound for Florida State next year, less of an unpolished diamond and even teen prospect Georgia Gayle showing the kind of fearless combativeness in practice that her father Garnett was once lauded for.

Plus GB bring back Temi Fagbenle to add to the cast of holdovers from London 2012. The centre, however, has not played competitively since the spring while she completes her Masters at the University of Southern California with the archaic NCAA rules forbidding her even from practicing with their team to stay in game shape after exhausting her four years of permitted eligibility.

Despite picking up an ankle knock in midweek, she is expected to play and Buceta believes the Londoner will remain a totem.

“We think we can help because she is a great player,” he said. “It is true she has not ben playing but we know what she is capable of and she has been a Great Britain player for a number of years. She wanted to come. She’s made a big effort to be here because she’s still finishing off her studies at USC. Even in the camp, she was sending things off and you see how motivated she is. But we have to see how healthy she is.”

Hopefully enough to help repel the hosts. And to aid British Basketball’s cause in arguing their case for help and support with the evidence of two senior teams in EuroBasket competition in 2017.

We know what it would mean, Buceta affirms. But it cannot weight on our minds.

“I am concerned about the global perspective and I understand the responsibility,” he said.
“But when you go into a game you can’t think about the wider consequences. You can only focus on what you have to do on the court, the decision I have to make, the players who want to play their best and afterwards you see the consequences.

“For example, we weren’t at the Olympic Games this year in Rio. You don’t want players going: ‘my god I have to save my country or my sport.’ It is an extra pressure. You go there wanting to do your best. At the end, things move forward and if there is a win and British Basketball is going to move forward, it will happen. But you can’t depend on just one game.”

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