FIBA Women’s EuroBasket 2021 – Team GB vs Belarus Match Report
Despite a fairly strong defensive showing against an off-the-pace Belarus, Team GB have fallen at the final hurdle and now require a miracle to qualify for the 2021 EuroBasket finals later this year. Jessica Matthewson reports.
It was a disappointing end to the Great Britain Women’s team’s qualifying campaign, as they lost 67-57 to Belarus in their final qualifying match in Latvia, with any hope of making it to the EuroBasket finals now out of their hands.
Team GB started off strong. 23-year-old Kristine Anigwe won the tip, allowing the other GB starters; Chantelle Handy, Temi Fegbenle, Eilidh Simpson and Karlie Samuelson an initial key offensive play, with Belarus commiting a foul against them in the first 30 seconds.
Fegbenle took control of the team early on, scoring eight of the team’s 12 points in the first quarter, but it was Belarus who led the game with 14 points. They were worked hard under the basket and a resilient defensive trio of Fegbelne, Anigwe and Monakana forced them to find another way through. Unfortunately for Team GB, they did, as they got in a rhythm with their inside shots and seeing them land consistently.
The second quarter began, but with only a two point lead to Belarus, both teams came out with added ferocity to their game. One of the Belarusian players, Alexandria Bentley, was at the forefront of this intense display, showing off her key skills in Belarus’ offensive situations and making the head coach of Team GB, Chema Buceta, incredibly frustrated. Both defences stood strong, with shots falling short of the mark until Belarus’ Katsiayna Syntsina began to hit basket after basket.
The game’s momentum eventually swayed to Team GB, with Samuelson using her experience and knowledge of the sport to control the pace and draw fouls from her opponents, helping her side to a one-point lead in the closing stages of the second quarter. However, with four seconds remaining of the quarter, a time out was called and when play resumed, Rytsikava sunk a beautiful floating jump shot to take her team into half-time with the lead.
At this point, it is important to acknowledge just how close the match was. Both teams had six turnovers, eight assists and while Belarus were leading with 23 rebounds, Team GB weren’t too far behind, having 21 of their own. It was an incredibly close match, with both teams putting forward performances that deserved to see them qualify for the finals.
Then, the second half began…
Team GB started with Fegbenle once again, who comfortably got a basket and drew a foul. Her teammates must have fed off of this energy and for around six minutes, there was some really great Team GB basketball to watch. The man-to-man defence from Belarus started to resemble a sloppy 3-2 zone and the opposing team managed to easily find their way to the basket. But then, Team GB allowed mistakes to creep into their play. Clumsy passes and a disorganised defensive shape left the players that should have been guarded open for comfortable baskets. While it might have been easy for me to shout this at my screen at home, the lack of offensive rebounding from the British team was truly maddening. The fire that they had started the quarter with had already burnt down to ashes and Belarus began to pull ahead, and it was at this point that they started to show themselves as the better team.
The final quarter started with more energy on both teams’ benches than on the court, with the concentration and weight of the game on each player’s face clearly visible through the laptop screen. However, all attention was drawn back to the on-court action, as Belarus’ number seven went up for a basket, only to be met by a monster block from Anigwe, bringing everyone around the court – and everyone watching – back, ready to see who would take home the win. Unfortunately for Team GB however, Belarus fired a constant stream of outside shots at the British basket, building up a comfortable 10-point lead in the fifth minute that lasted until the final whistle, seeing Belarus win by a score of 67-57.
Overall, Team GB played with passion and determination. It was clear how much they wanted to win, to qualify. That being said, even on what seemed to be a bad day for Belarus, they didn’t stand a chance. Most shots were unlucky and the defence – particularly guard Eilidh Simpson – was strong throughout the match, but there were also too many wayward passes and mishandles under the basket that would prove to be the team’s downfall.
While this may seem like the very end for Team GB, they have a final lifeline for qualification, in hoping that the finish as one of the top five second-placed teams across the groups. If Saturday’s match between Poland and Belarus finishes with a winning margin of less than 27 points, Team GB will qualify for the final stage of the competition. Only time will tell though, with the final result being completely out of their hands.
Fingers, toes, and any other limbs crossed for the Great Britain team – there’s still hope.
Watch Belarus take on Poland in Riga, Latvia at 11:30 (GMT) on Saturday 6th February on YOUTUBE.COM/FIBA