Basket Ball: Hansell ensures England victory

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND'S BAND of wandering players, drawn from nine continental clubs with only Ronnie Baker representing the Budweiser League, produced enough of a team performance last night to keep Belarus at arms length in an ugly encounter in the semi-final round of the European Championship, their penultimate game in their group. With qualification for this summer's finals already beyond them, England's win at least means they will not have to pre-qualify for the 2001 Championship.

Roger Huggins, outstanding throughout, John Amaechi, Baker, Steve Bucknall and Andy Betts gave England enough impetus to stay ahead for the entire game, though they were only made safe inside the final 30 seconds by four points from Steve Hansell.

A bruising first half centred on how England handled the seven footer, Alexander Koul. The England coach Laszlo Nemeth's answer was to throw in the 7ft 1in Betts. He promptly drew two fouls on his opposing centre and when Amaechi trapped Koul into a third he was withdrawn to the bench. But just as England lost a six and then a five-point lead earlier in the half, so they lost this one with Baidokov and Kouzmin squaring the interval score on 31-31.

England had shot poorly, but after the interval they resorted to ferocious defence. Amaechi and Bucknall put England 41-33 ahead and then Amaechi produced England's biggest lead at 43-33. As Belarus fought back, Bucknall produced the crucial play to foul out Koul before Hansell closed England's account. Nemeth said: "It was a tough, ugly, typical European game. At least we didn't go soft and melt away as we've done in the past."

England scorers: Carter 3, Cheung 2, Herriman 1, Hansell 9, Huggins 18, Betts 3, Bucknall 11, Amaechi 14.

Belarus leading scorers: Baidakov 11, Jeloudek 11, Krivonos 11, Koul 10.