Standard Life GB Women registered a stunning 74-51 win over Israel in Bydgoszcz this afternoon making history in the process. The British dominated the game after a tight opening five minutes as they recorded the nation's first ever victory at senior European finals level and ensuring themselves a place in the second stage of EuroBasket 2011.
Britain hit a much improved 44 percent of their shots inside the arc and an impressive 83 percent from three-point territory. But it was GB's persistent team defence that set the platform for success never letting Israel gain any offensive rhythm. GB dominated the boards at both ends of the court as Israel were out-rebounded 47-25. Julie Page was a monster on the boards with nine rebounds closely followed by Kim Butler who had her best game of the tournament so far as she grabbed eight rebounds. GB's high possession game was helped by team a massive 14 offensive boards to Israel's 4.
Natalie Stafford and Stef Collins set the defensive tone early and this was backed up by Jo Leedham and Rachael Vanderwal when they entered the fray. GB kept Israeli star Shay Doron to just 15 points and restricted Liron Cohen to 11 points in their third outstanding defensive performance of the tournament.
GB's scorers were spread around with five players registering double figures. Jo Leedham again made great use of her 21 minutes to finish with 18 points, while Natalie Stafford added 16 points, six boards and five assists. Kim Butler finished with 14 points while Julie Page had 11 points as well as dishing out five assists. Chantelle Handy was the fifth GB player in double digit points with 10, along with five rebounds and two assists.
Israel won the tip, but it was Kim Butler who opened the scoring with a shot after a great offensive rebound.
Five points from Stafford saw GB keep up the momentum as she rediscovered her shooting touch, and the Standard Life GB side led 7-6 at the mid-stage of the quarter.
Some tough calls saw GB pick up fouls, with Stafford forced to sit down after six minutes but Leedham drained a three-pointer off Azania Stewart's assist to tie the game at 11 before Page restored the lead with a put-back taking Maher's team into the first break with a 13-11 lead.
Page doubled that lead off Leedham's assist to open the second period and Butler converted an and-one to make it a seven point game.
Rachael Vanderwal did well to draw an offensive foul on Jennifer Fleischer before Stafford hit a three-pointer to give Britain a ten point advantage and force an Israel timeout with 8:14 on the clock and GB leading 21-11.
The break didn't prevent Butler extending the advantage before Shay Doron hit a jump shot to break GB's 13-0 run.
Chantelle Handy hit a nice jump shot to make it 26-13 before an excellent fast break saw Handy collect Stef Collins' assist to convert a lay-up putting GB 28-13 ahead and force another Israel timeout with 4:56 remaining in the first half.
Doron took her tally to 11 with a pair from the line but Stewart kept the score ticking over with five straight points and some intense defence to keep Israel at bay before Stafford took her tally to 10 with two free-throws extending GB's lead to 35-17 with two minutes remaining.
Laine Selwyn scored on the fast-break after a GB turnover and Stewart was unfortunate to pick up an offensive foul but despite Liron Cohen's buzzer-beating three-pointer, it was Maher's team who went into the locker room with a well-deserved 37-24 lead.
Butler extended that lead to 14 with a free-throw to open the second half before taking her tally to 10 with a jump shot and then providing the assist for Page to make it 42-26 with two minutes gone in the third quarter.
Israel replied with six straight points before Butler broke the run and Leedham sunk a three-pointer to force Israel into a timeout with 4:25 remaining in the period and GB holding a commanding 47-30 lead.
Another Leedham three-pointer followed and Butler's jumper saw GB's lead grow to 20 before Butler collected her fourth personal foul and Maher called his first timeout of the game.
A Katia Levitsky and-one shaved the lead to 17 but Britain still went into the final break with a comfortable 54-37 lead.
Meirav Dori opened the final period scoring with a lay-up for Israel before Page hit a pair at the line and Leedham sunk a close range shot.
Back-to-back Stafford scores, the second off an offensive board, saw the lead reach 21 to force yet another Israel timeout with 6:06 on the clock. Eli Rabi's team responded with five unanswered points to make it 64-46 and Maher called a break of his own.
Clearly GB were not going to let their first finals victory escape them and both Leedham and Handy scored out of the break to effectively end the game as a contest.
Standard Life GB head coach Tom Maher had praise for the his Standard Life GB women's team after they reached the second stage of EuroBasket 2011 as they defeated Israel 74-51.
"It was a dream to win that game. It was a big big game and I was extremely nervous about it. I looked at some of the Israel players and they are top-class, so I knew it would be really hard but we knuckled down and we were always safe. It wasn't just win, it was a comfortable win."
Maher admitted that he wasn't overly worried with the previous two losses in the tournament: "I want to win every game, that's my aim as a coach and I'm really angry when we lose a game we should have won. But to get within 15 of both the Czech and Belarus that's an achievement as they are at such a high level. We've worked hard and had a fabulous result today."
Maher refused to single out any individuals after an excellent team display: "Natalie Stafford scored early and really got going. Julie [Page] had a great game, she gets a lot of things done. Jo [Leedham] did well and played some great defence as well, but it would be unfair to single people out. We went with eight players, we play well together as a group. We had some great defending, we won the rebounding 47-25 and that's a great team stat."
Guard Stef Collins was also delighted with the result: "We knew it would be a battle, but we wanted to get through the first round. It's our debut in the European finals and we've taken a step in the right direction today and it was a great win.
"Right now the spirits are high, and we've achieved so much in the last couple of years. We've got three more games, and we'll give it a go."
For the boxscore and statistics please click here<http://www.eurobasketwomen2011.com/en/default.asp?cid=%7b80B70C1E-CF16-4AD1-B264-AB49D76C2B19%7d&compID=%7bCF1BFB60-1462-4EB7-ABFD-6769D7079803%7d&season=2011&roundID=7622&gameID=7628-B-6-3>.
photos Janos Schmidt