Malta’s run towards a direct placing into the women’s Europe Cup qualifiers semifinals ended on Saturday as they lost 14-6 to hosts Cyprus in the final game of the group. This was the second loss of two qualifying games played on Saturday.
It was a dominant showing from Cyprus, who had just beaten Luxembourg moments earlier. After this win, Cyprus finished top of the group in Pool A on a 2-0 record – heading straight to the semifinals – as Luxembourg and Malta head into the knockout rounds having to a quarter-final round. Were Malta to win this game, it would have ended in a three-way tie between the three teams. Malta now faces Kosovo in the quarters.
Malta started the game with Ashleigh van Vliet, Mikela Riolo, and Samantha Brincat – who replaced Stephanie De Martino in the starting three. Cyprus took very little time to open their scoring from the first possession with a drive from Petra Orlovic.
Riolo made it all square again after the first minute with a swift reverse layup. Brincat nearly made it two but her identical effort was penalised for a shot clock violation.
Cyprus instead took their chance to increase their score when Veatriki Akathiotou made another layup while winning the foul on the way to the hoop. She missed her shot from the line and Malta retook possession in windy conditions along the Limassol coast.
Orlovic opened a two-point gap before Riolo tied with a two-point shot from beyond the arc with just under eight minutes to go.
Cypriot Orlovic made up for her miss from the charity stripe with a made free throw to retake the lead at 4-3, amid multiple misses from both sets of players.
Once again, Malta looked towards attempting long-range shots but Orlovic made them pay with a close shot with 5.43 to go. The latter was her side’s best contributor, together with Akathiotou who added another from the line before De Martino brought the game back to within two.
With 4.32 minutes to go, Tijana Raca piled more pressure on the Malta side with another close effort before Riolo grabbed one back as both teams struggled to score points at just 7-5.
Eleni Pilakouta opened her account after having been kept quiet by the Malta girls with another shot from under the rim, but De Martino replied with a two-ball right after to keep the score at a two-point margin as time began to run out. Cyprus went back to five points ahead with a two-pointer from Akathiotou, and another from Orlovic as Malta faced a mountain to climb.
Malta could not stop the Cypriot scoring as Pilakouta made it a six-point margin in the last minute of the game before Akathiotou added to Malta’s woes with a basket and closed off the contest by making one of two free throws in the dying moments of the game.
Malta M. Riolo 3, S. De Martino 3, A. Van Vliet, S. Brincat.
Cyprus V. Akathiotou 5, P. Orlovic 5, E. Pilakouta 2, T. Raca 1.