On paper, it was a consistent GB Women’s team versus the enigma of Montenegro. GB had looked strong in all three of their EuroBasket group games – Montenegro, on the other hand, looked either potent or poor.
At stake for both teams was a date with Hungary in Belgrade in the tournament’s quarter final.
It was GB who settled first. After two minutes score-free, GB hit 7 points in a row to force Montenegro to an early sit team-talk on the bench. Karlie Samuelson and Temi Fagbenle readily found their full range of shots early in the first quarter, while Montenegro looked at times frustrated and lacking in rhythm. Although Montenegro were eventually able to start finding their way to the hoop, Fagbenle consistently found opportunities to muscle her way to the basket or shoot a mid-range jump shot with ease to ensure that GB scored more than they let in. At the end of the first quarter GB Women enjoyed a 22-14 lead.
At the start of the second, it was the potent Montenegro that came off the bench, starting their comeback with a three-pointer, then a half-court steal that produced an easy two, followed by another three without reply from GB. Suddenly the game was tied and Montenegro looked instantly more confident and assured, with their star player Glory Johnson of WNBA’s Dallas Wings beginning to warm up.
But GB have been in this position before in this competition and looked unfazed by Montenegro rallying, and they continued to pick up enough points to keep their noses in front.
For the majority of the second it was a case of trading baskets.
Chantelle Handy then found her way to the hoop after a time-out to get GB back to a five-point cushion at 44-39. Soon after, Fagbenle tracked Johnson to the hoop, but the glory fell to Temi as she thrashed the ball from the forward’s hands before she could complete. The buzzer sounded soon after and GB went into the half leading by 44-41.
Fagbenle, Jo Leedham-Warner, and Rachael Vanderwal looked eager at the start of the third. Before Montenegro had a chance to get their heads back in the game, GB had a 10-point lead, and Montenegro were again looking for answers.
Samuelson’s three-point range was majestically found with less than four minutes left, making it 63-50. Montenegro were starting to find the range of scoring options in the GB team difficult to cope with or outsmart. By the end of the third, the quarter had been convincingly won by GB, who took a 69-60 advantage into the fourth.
At the start of the final quarter, Bozica Mujovic was left wide open to hit a three-point shot, but GB responded through the indomitable Fagbenle, who seemed to be able to do whatever she wanted with ease. Just over 7 minutes left and it was 12-point lead to GB. Some individual skill from Milica Jovanovic saw Montenegro make it a 10-point game, but it wasn’t enough to ignite their chances. Vanderwal responded by driving through to the basket, drawing and converting the foul, and it was a 14-point lead to GB. Samuelson again found her sweet spot from three-point range, adding two free-throws soon after to make it 86-69 to GB with less than four minutes left.
Similar to GB’s game against Ukraine the previous night, the expected close finish never materialised and coach Chema Buceta’s squad were in complete control of the final quarter, closing it out by 92-71.
GB Women were quietly confident before the tournament, but knew they had a mountain to climb to get out of their group. Now, their high level of consistency has won not just plaudits and a quarter-final place, but has put down a marker for GB women within Europe’s basketball elite.