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Gibraltar U16 put in tough shift as they looked to improve although facing defeat against Malta

Gibraltar U16 32-75 Malta U16
FIBA EuroBasket 2024 Division C

A lower attendance than the previous day greeted the young under-16 girls’ team. The heat of the evening did little to help, with many hand fans waved in front of faces as the match began.

A tighter game from the start saw Gibraltar score their first points early on, boosting confidence. The frustrations of the previous day were quickly pushed aside, setting a new tone.

During the warm-up, where a backboard was probably used for the first time, every shot was going in, bolstering Gibraltar’s confidence after misfiring against Moldova. The tendency for Gibraltar players to shoot at the hoop without using the backboard, a major frustration in local basketball leading to low scoring results, was evident again in the previous match and early warm-up sessions.

Malta leveled after several attempts, but a significant pause due to a timer issue disrupted the initial flow. A second pause moments later, for a change in the score after Malta had been awarded a three-point basket on a two-point basket, again disrupted play. This frustrated players like Dalmedo, who was once again Gibraltar’s biggest asset.

Gibraltar added their second basket to place themselves just two points behind. However, Malta succeeded in stealing two consecutive defensive passes, leading them to a 9-4 and then an 11-4 lead. Malta, winning offensive rebounds and fighting for the ball with greater ferocity, marked the differences between the two teams as they went ahead 15-4. A quiet crowd, compared to the handful of Maltese fans, mainly families, further added to Gibraltar’s woes.

It wasn’t until two minutes before the end of the first quarter, as Gibraltar scored their third basket, that the crowd’s cheers were finally heard. Gibraltar, who have a developing team, battled hard and showed improvements daily as they gained experience on the court at this level. However, they still needed to improve basic technical aspects such as ball control when running forward, delivering passes, and using the backboard rather than playing a netball shot for the hoop.

There was no lack of enthusiasm, determination, or resilience from the Gibraltar team, whose attitude was to battle for every ball and inch of the game, even when facing defeat. Scoring eight points in the first quarter was already an improvement from the previous day, settling nerves even though they were still behind at 8-19.

A strong start with a foul earned immediately saw Gibraltar with a chance to reduce the score within the first seconds. Although missing the free shot, winning the rebound allowed them to add their first two points of the quarter. Gibraltar’s crowd started to warm up to the game, trying to distract players on free shots and encourage the local side.

Malta, however, rose to the occasion and went ahead 22-10. Gibraltar’s response was an attempted three-pointer given as two, but with a free shot, they again won the rebound to go 22-14, reducing the deficit to seven. Cheered by a roaring crowd, Gibraltar lifted their game, even though the score settled at 14-22 for some time.

Malta broke the momentary deadlock with a well-taken free shot but only added that single point. They then added their next two baskets in quick succession as Gibraltar’s defense was caught out, unable to track back. Malta, with six minutes to halftime, already led 27-14, doubling the gap in a short space of time. High pressure from Malta allowed them to steal a pass and score, extending their lead to 30-14.

Malta maintained their high-pressure tactics, making it difficult for Gibraltar as they found themselves swarmed by an active Maltese formation that allowed little breathing space. Malta played to Gibraltar’s weaknesses and where they lacked confidence. Passes from under the basket, one of Gibraltar’s weaknesses, were intercepted by Malta for free runs to the basket.

Dalmedo continued to be the heart of Gibraltar’s game, adding points after a short break as they approached halftime. Malta, however, was already at 36-16 with two minutes left until halftime. When Barbara scored the next two points, the roar was even bigger as another player joined the scorers. Although Malta was running away with the score, now at 41-19, Gibraltar’s players showed aggression and energy, which they had lacked against Moldova. Barbara netted her free shot amid the shrill screams of Maltese youngsters to make it 19-41. A lost ball just before the buzzer gave Malta two added points, finishing the first half with a 43-19 lead.

The halftime scoreboard highlighted the stark contrast between the two teams. Malta had just three players who had not scored, while Gibraltar had only Dalmedo and Barbara on the scoresheet, with Dalmedo just a point behind Malta’s top scorer, Farrugia, who had thirteen.

The match, watched by Minister for Sport Leslie Bruzon and GABBA President John Goncalves, showcased Gibraltar’s capacity to host significant events. The two big screen scoreboards, available at the stadium for years and used only for big events, along with the pre-match and halftime music and continuous livestream of all matches via FIBA official channels, demonstrated Gibraltar’s capability to host sports events at this level.

Gibraltar started brightly in defense, frustrating Malta into timing out. However, they failed to take advantage, allowing the ball to be stolen at the halfway line for a free run at the basket. This further demonstrated the players’ attitude to maintain focus, even as underdogs. Stuck at 19 points, Gibraltar saw Malta take their chances on quick breaks, passing the 50-point mark.

As the third quarter progressed, the sticky heat inside the Tercentenary Sports Hall played its part. It wasn’t until five minutes before the end of the third quarter that Gibraltar added their first point of the quarter, with Costa adding her name to the scoresheet with a free shot. She grabbed another point moments later through a second offense by Malta. Gibraltar missed a chance to add two more points in open play, free from defenders, after stealing the ball on offense.

Playing the final two minutes of the quarter without Barbara or Dalmedo on the court, Gibraltar didn’t create many chances upfront, but those on the court refocused on defending tighter, quicker on backtracking. They held out for some time but conceded a further two points in the final minute, adding two of their own to finish the third quarter at 23-58, with four scorers on the board for Gibraltar, Mauro being the latest to add her name.

Dalmedo’s return immediately saw Gibraltar grab two more points in the first seconds of the final quarter. However, Malta responded with another steal at the halfway line. Dalmedo again sent the crowd roaring as she took her next two free shots with great composure, bringing Gibraltar to 27-60, with over seven minutes left to play and reduce the gap further.

Reyes, with composed dribbling from the halfway line, set herself up to add her name to the scoresheet next. Malta responded with a fast break, taking the score to 29-62, but Gibraltar continued to battle. Malta took their score to 68, with Gibraltar struggling to produce the final ball, weariness setting in. With two minutes left, Dalmedo and Costa were rested as Malta climbed to seventy points.

Malta was to win 75-32. The Gibraltar U16s however, showing more positives as they arrive to face their final group match on Thursday.

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