PHOTO GALLERY - Great Britian vs USA
|FIBA World Ranking||No. 49|
|How qualified||Host Nation|
|Key veteran||Wing Jo Leedham|
|Rising star||Center Azania Stewart (University of Florida)|
|Olympic medals||None (first Olympic appearance in 2012)|
|World Championship medals||None|
|Preliminary round group||Group B|
It may not seem cricket, but so weak was Great Britain’s résumé in international women’s basketball that for a time FIBA even considered denying the British the automatic Olympic qualification traditionally accorded the host nation.
Enter Australian master mechanic Tom Maher, who since leaving his position as head coach of the Opals has built a coaching career out of raising the play for Olympic hosts (China) and would-be competitors (New Zealand) to a respectable level. Maher, in turn, supplemented the handful of experienced British club players with a passel of U.S. collegians, plus the odd Australian and Canadian player, with ties to Britain.
The results: Great Britain qualified to compete in last year's Eurobasket Finals, its first-ever appearance in the competition. And while the record there was less than earth-shattering, the Brits did manage to win a game (a 74-51 preliminary-round victory over Israel) and came within a gnat's eyelash of pulling off one of the biggest upsets in international women's basketball history, putting ultimate Eurobasket Champion Russia through a major scare before falling, 62-59.
With that success, FIBA's qualms about awarding Great Britain the host's nation's automatic berth evaporated, especially as it's never wise to underestimate the power of home-court advantage (just ask the Czechs, who pulled off major upsets over Australia and Belarus when the 2010 Women's World Basketball Championships were held on their home turf). And Great Britain has been steadily improving, as evidenced by the 6-6 record in preparatory games over the past year.
The British battled their way to another near miss against Croatia, losing by just three points (77-74) in a friendly game in May, and pulled off a coup in a friendly this week with the United States by taking an 11-point lead early on. Still, at the end of the day, while the British have much to be proud of, they were able to hang with the Americans for only one quarter once Team USA turned up the heat to win 88-63. Until last week, when Britain bagged a major confidence booster with a 64-57 upset of Frnce in a friendly tournament in Sheffield, Britain's wins, with the exception of a pair of 1-1 splits against both Canada and the Czech Republic last month, have come against teams -- the Ukraine (83-74), Belgium (96-69), Korea (113-86) and Argentina (81-65) -- that haven't qualified to compete in the Olympics. The original placement in Group B seemed to doom any hopes of a British stunner in London, but with France and Canada also in Group B, and Brazil suddenly minus Iziane Castro Marques, perhaps the door to the quarterfinals has cracked open just a little bit.
Unquestionably, Great Britain is now a program on the rise and one that its opponents would underestimate at their peril.That said, however, a team that claims a preliminary round win over Israel as its historic highlight can't really be held to a very high standard. In fact, should the British manage a win in group play, it will be cause for considerable celebration, and perhaps serve as a building block for a sport that has never gotten much traction in Great Britain.
- London 2012: Angola -- Just happy to be there
- London 2012: Brazil -- With Castro Marques gone, so are Brazil's medal hopes
- London 2012: Canada -- Needs a little luck to advance
- London 2012: China -- It's been a struggle since Beijing
- London 2012: Croatia -- Here's the upset special
- London 2012: Czech Republic -- Experience plus size could equal a medal
- London 2012: France -- It's now or never for Les Bleus
- London 2012: Russia -- As usual, an enigma
- 2012 London: Turkey -- Plenty of size, but shooters are the key
- London 2012: The United States -- Only gold will satisfy