Great Britain women’s bid for a fourth Eurobasket finals appearance in a row ended after a 71-52 defeat by Italy.
The visitors rarely threatened an upset in Lucca after Italy took a grip on the game in the second quarter.
Azania Stewart (19) and Chantelle Handy (13) were GB’s highest scorers but the team shot the ball poorly in their first game since February.
With one game to come, GB are now certain to finish third in Group C, with only the top two able to qualify.
GB trailed early on despite a strong start from forward Stewart, who hit their first six points.
Italy had to wait until the second quarter for a double-digit lead thanks to the efforts of Cecilia Zandalasini.
With top scorer Johannah Leedham attracting heavy, physical marking from the Italians, GB struggled to score in the second quarter, missing all but three of the 16 shots they took. Leedham finished with just eight points, her lowest haul in the qualifying campaign.
Trailing 36-23 at half-time, GB showed signs of a comeback in the third quarter with seven points from Handy and then a Leedham-driven 6-0 run reducing the arrears to just six points.
But seven points in a row from veteran Laura Macchi, who finished with 23 points to go with the 27 she hit in Manchester a year ago, meant Italy always seemed to have an extra gear available.
The fourth quarter saw GB reduce the deficit to 56-47 on Stewart’s smooth jumpshot, but Italy closed the game out 15-5 to leave little doubt of their pedigree as unbeaten group leaders.
The defeat will again leave the British basketball programme hoping to be spared a cut in funding from the government.
“In previous years I’ve worried way too much about this – I mean, I’ve cried on TV – but the funding situation is the business side,” said Stewart.
“My job is here on the court and all I can do is keep the flag flying high and do my job. The rest is for people outside.”
Stewart said that GB could have benefitted from a practice game before the trip to Italy.
“Italy had a prep game beforehand – they played some all-stars, and that worked for them,” she said.
“For us, we only had four days and it was hard for us to manage. Do you put in a game and risk us travelling while we’re still fatigued? You take a risk and our risk was to put in the plays.”
GB coach Jose Buceta was not drawn on the treatment Leedham attracted from Italy, which left her frustrated at the officials.
“The other teams are aware of her – and this is normal, it’s going to happen all the time. It’s difficult for her when she plays for GB with all the attention of [opposing] team on her,” he said.
“She’s one of the resources that we have and she is the one who can score so it’s normal that she should have the ball. But it’s also important that the other players do thing as well – and I’m trying to empower the players to do this.”
Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/basketball/38041193