Under 18 Women finish strong, claim 11th place at the Europeans

Tags: National Teams, U18 Women

England wrapped up their 2016 European Championships Division B campaign with 2 wins and a loss in the classification games. A 75-56 victory over Bulgaria on Friday was followed up by a 50-59 defeat to Finland on Saturday before the team got their revenge against former group C opponents Estonia 48-43. That final win on Sunday saw Coach Ellis's side secure an 11th placed finish.

Friday's show down with Bulgaria saw England start quickly and never really relent. With 3 minutes left in the first, Bulgaria had the game tied at 8-8. Everything after that point went the way of England, who pushed out to a lead they never looked to relinquish. Gabi Nikitinaite got her first minutes of the tournament and was a welcome boost for the side after missing time through illness.

(Jo Lowry setting up a play against Bulgaria)

Up 17-11 after the 1st and 32-25 at the half, it was the 3rd where England really put the contest out of reach. Going on an 8-3 run to start the quarter, it was a trend that would see England establish their largest lead of the game as they moved 24 clear at one stage before settling for a 58-38 score line after 3. England allowed Bulgaria to reduce the lead by 1 with a 17-18 4th quarter, but the game was over long before that point. Jo Lowry led all scorers with 16 and Chloe Gaynor had her 2nd double-double in as many games with 10 points and 14 boards.

The following day the team were back on court to face Finland knowing a win would allow them to finish as high as 9th. Technical difficulties at FIBA HQ meant a Live Stats blackout for the contest and information was sparse. The girls gave an impressive display in the opening half against a tough opponent and will have been delighted to have made it to the break up 23-21. Finland came out firing to start the 3rd and went on a 6-0 run but England responded in kind with 5 points of their own to lead 28-27 mid way through the quarter. The score line remained tight from there and by the end of the 3rd there was nothing between the two sides, tied 33-33.

England started the final quarter in the best way possible, putting together an 11-2 run to move into a promising 44-35 lead after 4 minutes of play. Unfortunately, that was as charitable as Finland got, going on a 6-24 streak of their own to end the game. At 50-59, the score was more lopsided than it should have been due to intentional fouls late on, but Coach Ellis suggested a lack of experience hurt the team when it mattered, "It was a disappointing loss after a gutsy performance. A lack of experience at this level saw Finland take the lead and secure the win. Overall it was a more solid performance which will give us confidence going into our final game against Estonia."

A little less than 24 hours later, England took to the court to face Estonia and finished their tournament on a high. The game started sluggishly for England though, allowing Estonia to pick up where they left off when the two teams had played earlier in the tournament. England shot just 4 of 13 from the field and with 3 minutes left in the opening quarter Estonia had begun to pull away, eventually finishing the 1st up 9-16. Eager to cut their deficit, England started the 2nd quarter well with a pair of free throws by Chloe Gaynor and a shot from deep followed by another couple of points from Abi Lowe to tie things at 16. Anna Popovic then put the girls ahead by 2, but Estonia stopped the England momentum shortly after and reestablished a lead by the time the half ended, sending the teams to the locker room at 18-24.

(Anna Popovic scoring vs Ireland - FIBA Europe)

Drawing from their experiences against Finland, the team were more composed in the 2nd half and took the game to Estonia. The tone was set as England went on an 11-0 run for a large portion of the 3rd quarter. Points from the floor for Gaynor, free throws from Lowry and a three ball from Imani Whittington put Estonia under pressure and without the scoring touch of England's nemesis from the previous meeting Sandra Tael, England were able to pull away and end the 3rd up 35-31.

The 4th quarter was quite contrasting. There was little to show offensively for either team through the first 5 minutes of the quarter, but what little scoring there was went the way of England as they led 39-31. After that there was a flurry of scoring from both sides that led to an exciting finish. Much like the Finland game, England had to contend with their opponents fighting hard down the stretch. Estonia upped their game as time began to get tight and with just a minute left on the clock the score was once again tied, now at 43-43. Lightning wasn't going to strike twice though and England dug deep to show the resolve they lacked the day before. A basket from Millie Knowles, followed by 3 free throws from Jo Lowry proved too much for Estonia and the game ended 48-43. Chloe Gaynor recorded her third double-double of the tournament with 12 points, 15 rebounds and 3 steals. Abi Lowe had 11 and a pair of assists and Imani Whittington had 7 points and 9 boards.

After the game, Coach Ellis was quick to pay tribute to her players, ""It's always great to finish the tournament with a win. Really shows character; really proud of the way the players represented England in the tournament. This win demonstrates the growth and improvement made by the team, despite limited preparation". Chloe Gaynor ranked 2nd for the tournament with 12.7 rebounds per game, tied 4th for double doubles in the tournament with 3 and tied 11th for efficiency per game with a score of +14. Abi Lowe led all English scorers with 9.3ppg, and Jo Lowry led the team in assists per game with 2.1.