With everything to play for in the last game of the group stages of EuroBasket, the main question was who wanted to advance more, GB or Ukraine? In the end it was GB, demonstrating teamwork, hustle, and playing to their many strengths, that saw them advance to the play-offs in a memorable victory.
In the first quarter, Ukraine’s frailties from the first two games of the tournament were again on display: defensively erratic and cold from three-point range. Chantelle Handy, on the other hand, hit two threes in quick succession to lay down the gauntlet. For Ukraine, it was in attack and rebounding that they looked strong and the second chance plays kept them in touching distance of GB. A three from Eilidh Simpson and Temi Fagbenle with the short-range jump shot ensured that GB took a 7-point lead with less than three minutes left in the quarter and Ukraine decide to talk it over with the score at 8-15. But it was GB who stayed in the ascendancy after the timeout – four points by Fagbenle in quick succession saw the quarter end with GB enjoying a lead of 14-19.
Baskets were in short supply for both teams at the start of the second quarter. Ukraine got going quicker than GB and Ukraine’s star player Alina Iagupova cut the lead to one point before GB got going: Cheridene Green’s persistence in the paint took the lead back to five points and Simpson hit another three in transition to establish an 8-point lead (18-26). With Ukraine completely stone cold from three-point range, Karlie Samuelson hit another three for GB, almost taunting the Ukrainians and their deficiencies from beyond the arc to open up a 22-33 lead. After a time-out, GB started to hurt Ukraine in transition to further compound their misery. With Iagupova struggling to show her team the way, Ukraine finished the half with no points from 18 three-point attempts and GB looking comfortable with a 24-35 advantage.
At the start of the third, Ukraine’s three-point woes continued (0-21) until Iagupova finally made an effort count to make it 33-40 with less than 6 minutes left. A long range pass in transition and a three-point play by Liudmyla Naumenko and the lead was cut to 4 points. Iagupova with another three and all of a sudden it was GB who needed to talk it over with their lead cut to one point.
With Ukrainian confidence growing, hustle plays by Simpson and Samuelson demonstrated the fight that was going to be necessary to win the game. With Ukrainian confidence growing, in the final second of the third it was another basket by Liudmyla Naumenko that gave Ukraine the slender one-point advantage going into the fourth.
With a barn-storming and tense finish looking likely, it was Jo Needham-Warner who hit the three early in the fourth quarter to get GB back in it by 45-47. Suddenly it was GB who were demonstrating their class and teamwork, and beginning to eke out another lead. Handy to Fagbenle in the paint, then Samuelson on the three, and GB were back to a seven point lead.
Even as Iagupova started to find her groove, GB demonstrated that one top class player is rarely enough to win at this level. Racheal Vanderwal hit another three after crisp passing play opened up the opportunity, and GB were back with a 10-point advantage by 49-59 with less than six minutes left.
From this point, GB didn’t look back. A highly impressive and gritty all-round performance ensured that the game was won by 54-68. Fagbenle was GB’s top scorer with 21 points.
The team now await Latvia v Spain to confirm placings, but to come out of this group with two wins and a close defeat to the reigning EuroBasket champions will give GB Women great confidence, whether that be for a play-off tomorrow or to take straight to Belgrade.