Malta crashed to an 89-46 defeat against favourites Luxembourg in the FIBA European Small Countries Championship semi-final on Saturday.
Size and strength played a vital role in sending the Group B winners into an exciting final against Group A winners Ireland, who beat Kosovo earlier on in the first semi-final.
Josephine Grima won the opening tip for Malta but the difference in size was evident as Malta started with Sophie Abela, Kristy Galea, Maria Bonett, Stephanie De Martino, and Grima.
Grima, who has been instrumental throughout the tournament, was the only Malta player to score double digits as she led with 12 points. De Martino, who had a better shooting night than the game against Ireland, added nine as Samantha Brincat scored seven. Luxembourg had four players into double digits as Anne Simon led with 19, Nadia Mossong adding 16 as Magaly Meynadier and Julija Vujakovic scored 11 and 10 respectively.
Similar to the Ireland game, second-chance points sent Luxembourg on a scoring spree which stunned the Malta girls resulting in a number of turnovers early in the game. In fact, Luxembourg went on a 10-0 run before Grima eventually opened for Malta after four minutes of play.
Luxembourg kept on pressing to end the first quarter with an 11-point margin. They added to this in the second as they had Malta chasing around with perimeter players getting good looks for three-pointers. Their accuracy was an enormous problem for Malta, especially in their layups, winning three-point plays on many occasions.
With Malta players looking overwhelmed, steals were aplenty from Luxembourg – they ended the night out-stealing 14 to four – and eventually headed into a 25-point gap after an 18-2 run to end the half.
The third quarter was no different, despite Christina Curmi and Grima doing the dirty work on defence which delayed Luxembourg’s onslaught. On the other side of the court, Malta’s shots just couldn’t fall, causing the leaders to reach the 30-point margin heading into the fourth quarter.
While the gap was too big to come back from, Malta came out strong, looking for a more respectable result. This showed as Malta’s defence finally began to click with Luxembourg missing shots. However, it was too little too late as with a late surge, Luxembourg took home the win with an even larger gap.
While Luxembourg face Ireland in the final on Sunday, Malta will play Kosovo in the Bronze medal game earlier on in the day (tip-off: 3PM).
LUXEMBOURG: S. Nuerenberg 3, M. Meynadier 11, N. Mossong 16, L. Diederich 2, J. Vujakovic 10, L. Jablonowski 8, M. Orban 4, M. Dittgen 5, A. Simon 19, C. Mreches 2, E. Muller 1, E. Skrijelj 8.
MALTA: S. Abela 4, K. Galea 6, M. Riolo 2, S. Brincat 7, M. Bonett, S. De Martino 9, C. Sollami 1, C. Ciantar, J. Xerri, S. Lecuyer 1, J. Grima 12, C. Curmi 4.