Basketball: GB team braced for USA test
Monday 16 July 2012
Great Britain's basketball teams are preparing to face their toughest-ever opponents - the United States - this week, hoping to build on the momentum of a strong showing this weekend in Sheffield.
The men recorded their first wins of the Olympic preparations with back-to-back victories over Portugal, while the women enjoyed a hugely encouraging 74-67 victory over world number eight France, capping a weekend that also saw them beat Angola and lose to the powerful Australians.
Now they head to Manchester, where the women will take on the Americans on Wednesday and the men on Thursday, with the world and Olympic champions posing the toughest test either team has faced to date.
The matches should provide something of a preview for the Games, with big crowds expected to give the teams a taste of the atmosphere they will face in London, and the opponents to make clear the standards required to succeed at the highest level.
"It's very exciting for us," said men's star Pops Mensah-Bonsu. "It should be real energetic, real crazy with an amazing atmosphere and it will be a great game for us to play in.
"It's definitely important to have that going into the Olympics because I'm hoping and guessing that's what the atmosphere will be like coming into London. It will be a good test for us and it will be interesting to see how we respond to that type of crowd."
Britain's NBA star Luol Deng regularly faces the US players in the league, and is looking forward to hosting them on home turf.
"I'm definitely excited, but British Basketball should be really excited too," he said. "This is the best team in the world, the best it gets, and they're coming here to play us. and they're looking forward to it too.
"If you go back a few years, they would never even think about playing the British team so that in itself is an accomplishment."
The men will play two more friendlies after Thursday, heading to Belgium to play Tunisia and their hosts at the weekend, but for the women Wednesday is the final chance to test themselves on court before the lights go on in London.
Barring a monumental upset, that means they are likely to finish their preparations with a defeat, but coach Tom Maher is not worrying about the results.
"If you're just worrying about that, you're going the wrong way," said the Australian, who is preparing for his fifth Olympic Games. "You have to focus on how you play, the integrity of what you're doing, whether you're maintaining your shapes and your cohesion. If you win and you don't do all that, it's fool's gold. If you lose but you do, that's something.
"It's about the quality of the performance and that's the only thing you worry about."
Forward Julie Page, one of the stars of the victory over France, added: "They are some of the best players in the world, but we just have to focus on what we're doing, not on the scoreboard. We have to make sure we do what we can do."
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