Great Britain’s hopes of reaching EuroBasket Women 2017 next summer were extinguished by a 71-52 defeat to Italy.

With the unbeaten hosts needing merely to win to ensure they qualified from Group C in top spot, there were only brief spells when Chema Buceta’s side delivered a consistent threat, doomed by 3-of-20 shooting from three-point range forced by the energised defence from their rivals.

And with Montenegro thrashing Albania 114-56, the route to the Czech Republic has been closed off for GB ahead of Wednesday’s final tie against the Albanians where only pride and the consolation of ranking points will now be at stake.

Missing out on a first major European tournament since 2009 will hurt, acknowledged Azania Stewart, who put up admirable resistance with a team-high 19 points.

“The bar was set very high from the beginning,” she said. “GB Basketball is very young and it’s moving forward and we’re trying to keep the tradition high. you saw Savannah (Wilkinson) come in today and she did great. But four us now we just have to keep worrying about the next fame and show the GB Way.”

In front of 1,500 impassioned home fans, the Italians quickly hit their stride early as Laura Macchi treated her 100th international appearance as a personal celebration.

Moving the ball at speed around the perimeter, their shooters hit hard and fast to surge 12-6 in front with Stewart, who scored six in the initial quarter, finding some relief as GB forced poor shot attempts, often late in the shot clock.

Leedham did not get help - or calls.

Leedham did not get help – or calls.

Temi Fagbenle, playing through an ankle injury in her first competitive game for seven months, could not make enough of an impact upon her arrival in a brave gamble that did not quite pay off.

“We knew she’d not played basketball since March and we took that risk,” Buceta admitted. “But we could not expect the impossible form here because she is not in shape. but she went onto the court and did her best.”

Instead it was Georgia Jones who added composure off the bench, hitting a three that helped reduce the visitors deficit to 20-15 at the end of the first.

But the Azzurre were relentless on the perimeter, not affording Jo Leedham an opportunity to utilise her full offensive range. Help, in the form of screens and protection, did not come to break the Bourges star out of the strangehold.

And a 10-2 run pushed the hosts as much as 32-17 ahead in the second period before Leedham – who ended with eight points, seven rebounds, five assists and five steals – turned facilitator to spark a brief but vital rally to bring her team back to 36-23 at half-time despite shooting a wretched 38.9% from the field.

Adjustments were made. The pace increased. Better looks sought. And the bench given its head. Savannah Wilkinson, much improved inside 12 months but with more surely to come, provided a useful cameo and an 8-2 run brought some momentum for the first time with the gap scythed to 46-40 with 1:36 left in the third.

But Macchi, who scored a game-high 23 points, stood tall and hung tough and a 7-2 burst left Buceta’s troops in a desperate search for a response.

It never came, even with Stewart’s continued hustle that brought 13 rebounds in total. And Italy – a telling 45-33 ahead in the boards battle – were able to coast to a fifth successive win in qualifying on the back of a concluding 15-5 run as GB fell meekly away.

“It was a tough game,” Stewart acknowledged. “Italy was really well-prepped and have played together. We tried to switch pick and rolls and they counter-acted it. Macchi hit big shots. It was a great run to bring it back within six points and I felt we had a go there. But it was a bit disappointing.

“I pride GB to never give up but we gave up some crucial rebounds back-to-back and it just deflated us and got them going even more.”

Afterwards, it was confirmed that Leedham will not be available for the trip to Albania but the Cheshire-born guard affirmed she has no plans to retire from international basketball.

TwitterGame Stats – Post-game presser (video)

1st: 20-15, 2nd: 16-8, 3rd: 17-17

Elsewhere in EuroBasket Women qualifying Group C, Montenegro beat Albania 114-56 behind 20 points and 10 rebounds from Jelena Dubljevic.

Standings: 1. Italy (4-0), 2. Montenegro (3-2), 3. Great Britain (2-3), Albania (0-5)

Game Notes: Georgia Gayle earned her first GB cap but did not play with Dominique Allen dropping out of the game day 13.

Pics: BB/Mansoor Ahmed

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