Great Britain are not done with their astonishing EuroBasket adventure after reaching the last four.

History made. Going to a place that no GB side has dared to sneak before. Now, a duel with France on Saturday (5pm BST) with a spot in the final at stake.

A 62-59 victory over Hungary in Thursday’s quarter-final in Belgrade underlined all the terrific virtues that Chema Buceta’s side possess: defensive ferocity, offensive selflessness, smarts and guile.

Plus a stupendous taliswoman in Temi Fagbenle who continued her MVP campaign with a game-high 29 points and eight rebounds as GB overcame a twitchy start and held on in a dramatic finish to burden their reputation still further.

With a spot in next February’s Olympic qualifying tournament already secured, they will play for a medal, whether gold or bronze, on the closing weekend of EuroBasket.

“We might even win it,” Jo Leedham ventured.

First, they’ll need to get past France who squeezed out Belgium 84-80 in overtime with the other semi pitting defending champions Spain against hosts and presumed favourites Serbia.

“This is fantastic,” Buceta beamed. “But this is the outcome of a great group of players who have everything: Commitment. Team-work. They did everything they could to be here, outside of the things that happened around them. Just focusing on the competition.

“Belief. Trust. This are the things we have. And we have to be very proud because we have proven we can do something.

“And we came here to do something. This is why we came. Now we have something big.”

Heady days. An unprecedented lift for sport that badly requires elevation. Just reward for a group that has risen to this challenge, and elevated itself so admirably.

Aside from the opening spell of the first quarter, when GB missed their first six goal attempts as their rivals claimed a 7-0 advantage, Buceta’s troops rode their defence, forced numerous turnovers and fed Fagbenle even when shots missed their mark, especially from long-distance with a 6/27 conversion from three-point range.

The WNBA centre was the first to score from open play with 6:40 left in the first and she was influential in a 19-2 run that took GB ahead for good when Cheridene Green hit a jumper at the end of the initial quarter that provided a 15-13 lead that was extended into the second.

Hungary missed nine successive shots from the field over a 5:22 spell before Agnes Studer converted and although GB were over-relying on threes, Chantelle Handy landed two and Georgia Jones buried her second long-range attempt to push her side 32-22 ahead at half-time.

Job half-done.

The Manchester Mystics guard went inside early in the third as Buceta urged his team to capitalise and bolt the door shut. Rachael Vanderwal gamely held Yvonne Turner in check. Leedham, scoreless until the fourth but adding 12 rebounds and eight assists, was doing everything else with a swagger and purpose.

“Jo Leedham is one of the best players I have ever coached,” Buceta declared. “It is unbelievable that people don’t sign her for top teams because she is one of the best players I have ever coached. Because she understands the situation. She scored 20 points against Latvia in the first game and then obviously defences are on her the whole team and she’s able to play for the team.

“This was a great performance from here as only top players can do. Because top players understand when it’s the moment and when it’s not. She played great defence as well, not just today but the whole tournament…. This is how the great players differentiate themselves from good players.”

For a second when Dora Horti came down on Karlie Samuelson, there was a momentary panic. Not again until the closing minutes. A sense of purpose remained.

A three then a score inside for Fagbenle forced Hungary to call a time out with 3:28 left in 3rd, trailing by 12, and by the period’s end, they would remain 48-38 behind.

But the former semi-finalists had one unexpected and arduous push to come that tested their foes to the limit and so nearly broke hearts.

A 9-2 run slashed GB’s precious lead with Buceta calling a time out of his own.

“Don’t Panic – just play defence,” urged the Spaniard who switched tack by utilising a tight eight-player rotation.

Eventually, Leedham gained her first points with 2/2 from the foul line as GB moved 54-44 ahead with 6:45 left but a 10-2 burst from Hungary raised nerves to the roof as turnovers were punished.

Leedham picked her moment to take a fantastic pass from Samuelson to get a precious first field goal yet one more frenetic rebuttal arrived.

Turner, who hit a team-best 11 points, hit a three off a steal which inflicted GB’s 16th turnover and although Fagbenle rolled inside to turn the odds again, Studer’s well-worked corner three cut the gap to a solitary point with 45 seconds remaining.

Luck now brought an assist.

Bernadett Hatar, improbably, saw her attempt to give Hungary a vital lead roll around the rim when the ball looked nigh certain to drop. Then the veteran grabbed a further lifeline when she blocked Fagbenle’s next drive.

But the Hungarian totem missed her next attempt and this time could not curse misfortune.

With time running down, Samuelson – who added seven points and seven rebounds – drew a foul with six seconds left and calmly sealed an astonishing victory from the line as Studer’s last-gasp three from half-court to force overtime hit the back of the rim but bounced out of reach.

The rollercoaster ride continues in two days. GB will play for a medal on Sunday, whatever occurs. Following the biggest result in British basketball’s history, who would bet against a little more?

“Just wow,” Leedham said. “I’m so proud of this team. We came here expecting to do something but I can’t honestly say I was expecting us to be in the semi-finals. Because from the start we were trying to get to the quarter-finals.

“But this team is just so special. We’re just enjoying the ride. We’re super-free. We’re just trying to get a medal now. Yes, and we’ve got a chance.”

Game StatsUpdates

Game Notes

GB starters v Hungary: Vanderwal, Samuelson, Leedham, Handy, Fagbenle

The French got past Belgium with 33 points and 10 rebounds from Sandrine Gruda a huge factor.

Spain ousted Russia 78-54 behind 24 points and 12 rebounds from Astou Ndour while Serbia, as expected, demolished Sweden 87-49 with Ana Dabovic scoring 19.

It means Russia will now play the Swedes in one top-six classification game for an Olympic qualification spot on Saturday with Belgium to meet Hungary in the other contest.

Saturday’s confirmed #EuroBasketWomen schedule (BST)
11:30 Belgium vs Hungary
14:00 Russia vs Sweden

17:00 France vs Great Britain
19:30 Serbia vs Spain

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Photos: Mansoor Ahmed

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