Great Britain are headed to the quarter-finals of EuroBasket Women.

A 92-71 victory over Montenegro in Riga in Monday’s playoff sends Chema Buceta’s side on a plane to Belgrade and a last-eight tie with Hungary on Thursday that offers a tangible opportunity to advance further still.

Led by 29 points from Temi Fagbenle, his players resiliently wore their challengers down with a 17-4 run in the fourth providing the icing on this sumptuous cake.

“The performance was maybe not as good as other days but it was the performance we needed to win,” head coach Chema Buceta said.

“We knew the importance of this game. It is true that we have played other games of high responsibility – for example when we played Greece at home to qualify.

“But this was a very special occasion. It’s normal that the team was a little bit tense and that was probably why we didn’t play defence with the fresh moves we needed.

“But it is true Montenegro did a very good offensively in the first half. Defensively, in the second half, we were much better.”

Never, ever, before has a GB team gone so far in a women’s tournament. Never previously have they been this loaded and duly capitalised.

This was a moment to savour. Perhaps the remainder of this week – when a spot in next summer’s Olympic qualification event will also be at stake – will provide even more extraordinary occasions.

A shot in the arm for a beleaguered sport. A timely reminder to those who control funding and wield influence.

If GB desired some early momentum, it duly arrived amid a Fagbenle-inspired whirlwind.

A 7-0 opening with the centre patrolling back and forth as others plugged any gaps around their totem.

Then a further 7-2 burst started off by the Polish League MVP with Leedham extending the cushion to 20-10 late in the opening period.

Turnovers have occasionally been a bane amid the boons. Eight in the first half led to ten Montenegrin points that gave Glory Johnson some additional support.

And the American-born big is too potent to simply disappear. She dragged the underdogs off the ground and nine unanswered points, capped by an outside score from Jovana Pasic drew the Montenegrins level for the first and only time before briefly snatching a lead when their captain Snezana Aleksic hit a three at the close of a 17-6 retort.

Fagbenle begged to counter. “You can’t guard Temi – Temi is a beast, right?” Samuelson jested after.

Then GB began to load all their varied weapons, seizing on Plans B, C and beyond, to ease ahead once more with a precise block from the WNBA centre factoring in a 44-41 half-time advantage.

With elimination for the conquered, little shock that Montenegro battled steadfastly.

Yet the reaction was swift and eventually merciless, with the British defensive wall forcing contested shots and then breaking at speed.

Rachael Vanderwal, who finished with nine assists to complement her 15 points on 6/10 shooting, hit a three that concluded an 11-1 start to the third that saw their foes held without a field goal for almost four minutes.

The ball movement, occasionally stagnant in the first half, became crisper. Confidence begetting execution and a little dazzle.

Montenegro were scrambling desperately and physically. It provided Leedham with three successful foul shots in quick succession, and when Samuelson drained a three and Cheridene Green converted a corner two, the cushion was 65-52 and there was an air of impregnability.

The only shame, an official attendance of 299. Of which half were Swedes lingering behind rather than storming Old Riga in celebration.

The few Brits on site had plenty to like, with 8/12 shooting in the quarter.

However, errors were still punished and Montenegro gratefully stole back six crucial points to ease their workload headed into the fourth by trimming their deficit to 67-60 before Bozica Mujovic hit a three among her team-best 16 points as GB briefly felt the breath on their necks.

The resilience of this group has built up over time and there are reserves of grit.

“We’re such a team,” said Leedham, who added 13 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, and was – quirkily – among only five GB players to score.

“It’s so great to play with girls who really want to win. People usually care about their stats. Showing out. Everybody here just wants to win. You really don’t find that anywhere else.”

Chill extinguished.

Samuelson, who added 28 points, began a priceless 10-0 flurry that unclogged the drain with Cheridene Green once again underlining her value as an asset by converting an offensive board into extra gains.

77-63 behind with six minutes to play, Montenegro were left in a cavernous hole.

Not one they could dig out of, with Johnson stymied and GB dogged.

Out they go. For GB, the charter flight to Belgrade is their next destination.

This ride, they trust, will have a few exhilarating stops remaining.

“I’m pretty happy,” Leedham affirmed. “I’m going to enjoy this moment. But now we’ll think about the quarter-finals because we don’t want this to end now.”

One game at a time, Buceta cautioned. Hungary (Thursday, 11.30 BST) up next.

“All are games are good opportunities. The opportunity was to play in a EuroBasket of 16 teams. To win two games in the first round group. To be top eight for the first time ever.

“Now we have the opportunity to play Hungary in the quarter-final. But if they were first in a tough group with Italy, Slovenia and Turkey, they are not a bad team.”

UpdatesGame Stats

Game Notes

GB starters: Vanderwal, Samuelson, Leedham, Handy, Fagbenle. Hannah Shaw played 1:37 in the fourth, meaning all of the roster has now featured in the tournament.

Earlier, Sweden ended the run of co-hosts Latvia with a dominant 77-62 victory.


Photos: Mansoor Ahmed

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