Loss of key players costs England dear

Basketball

DUNCAN HOOPER

Karl Brown, Roger Huggins and Andy Gardiner prevented total humiliation for England in their European Championship game in Riga last night, but Latvia still romped to a 94-67 victory in the opening game of the semi- final round.

Brown, baited by the 4,000 crowd throughout for his aggressive defence on Latvian players, led England's scorers with 22 points, including the last eight from the free-throw line. His support came from Huggins, who scored 17, and Gardiner, who scored 13 in only his third international.

England soon trailed 9-2 as they opened their challenge in his six-team group, from which the top two will qualify for the 1997 finals in Spain. They recovered to 21-16 on two baskets from Neville Austin, but trailed 44-32 at the interval after the Latvians scored from five three-pointers.

England's coach, Laszlo Nemeth, knew his team would struggle to score in the absence of Steve Bucknall and Spencer Dunkley, who are nursing injuries. Experienced players failed to step in and fill the gaps.

England return for the second game in their group against another accomplished eastern European side, Estonia, at Leicester's Granby Halls on Wednesday.

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