GB Women completed their extraordinary EuroBasket campaign with a fourth place finish against the elite basketball teams of Europe – and secured an opportunity to qualify to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
After defeating and scaring some of the powerhouses of European basketball, GB lost their bronze medal game to Serbia by 81-55. But, having exceeded all expectations in the tournament, the final score of this game will quickly be forgotten.
In many respects, this game was all about Serbia looking to finish strong. Before a home support of almost 4,000 and after an emotional defeat to Spain in yesterday’s semi-final, they had a lot to prove. The team came out fired up at the start of the first quarter, going up by 6-0 before Jo Leedham-Warner went to the free throw line after two minutes of play. Maja Miljkovic scored 7 points early on and Serbia were also finding joy from three-point range. At 15-6, GB coach Chema Buceta called a time-out to try and find a way to convert GB’s chances into points.
A GB squad that had dug deep in every game of the tournament needed to dig even deeper – and they did so. Rachael Vanderwal and Temi Fagbenle reduced the Serbian lead to five points, causing Serbia to go to the bench to regroup. Georgia Jones kept the GB surge going and reduced the lead to one point after the restart. But Serbia soon found their groove again, eventually opening up a 25-16 lead at the end of the first quarter.
At the start of the second, it was GB’s turn to go on a run of points – Fagbenle with a long two, then Cheridene Green and Eilidh Simpson getting on the scoresheet to again cut the deficit to five. But Serbia did not look keen to give up their advantage without a fight – with four minutes left in the half they were back to a nine-point lead.
The remainder of the quarter was characterised by Serbia hitting threes while struggling in the paint, and GB giving everything to stay in touching distance. By the half, Serbia had a lead of 40-33.
It had been a long and intense tournament for both teams, and it showed. As the third quarter started, Serbia proved better at finding scoring opportunities. At 47-35 to Serbia, GB called a time-out with less than three minutes played in the quarter. After the time-out, Serbia continued to steadily increase their advantage, opening up a lead of 20 points (57-37) with less than four minutes of the third quarter remaining.
As the heroics of the tournament looked to take their toll on a tired-looking GB, Serbia began to relax and find more space to play. The rest of the game was a formality for the home team, and they ran out Bronze medal winners before a jubilant partisan crowd. Fagbenle finished the game as GB’s top scorer with 23 points and with 11 for Vanderwal. Leedham-Warner finished the game with 11 rebounds.
For GB Women, they will now return home having put down a marker for what basketball in Britain is capable of, as will the British Women’s Wheelchair basketball team, who achieved silver medal in the European Championships earlier in the day. The focus now will be trying to qualify for Tokyo 2020, and the opportunities those games will present to defy even more expectations.