(18-14, 9-21, 11-14, 10-15)
Malta’s women’s National Team finished their week’s commitments in the FIBA Small Countries Games in Nicosia, Cyprus with the Bronze medal after a loss to a hot-shooting Norway side on Sunday.
It was no secret that Malta were set to be facing their toughest games in Cyprus and Norway, and despite valiant performances, they suffered tough losses to both tournament favourites. However, a bronze medal on Sunday means that Angela Adamoli’s clan have one-upped their result from last year’s event.
Norway’s Stine Austgulen led the game in scoring with an astounding 39 points, with Karyn Sanford the only Norwegian to join her in double-digits. On Malta’s roster, Sophie Abela was the leading scorer with 13 points, Ashleigh Van Vliet adding another 12. Josephine Diaby made up for a low-scoring game with seven rebounds, only second to Norway’s Julie McCarthy’s 10 boards.
Malta tipped off with the same set of players that started the previous games, while Karoline Teigland started instead of Sanford in an otherwise unchanged starting five for Norway.
Malta opened the score through a pair of Abela free throws. Austgulen equalised for Norway with a jump-shot at the end of the first minute. Norway struggled to penetrate the paint in these opening stages but managed to force turnovers when defending against the Maltese. Abela was in inspired form putting Malta ahead by four, having scored the first six points of the game.
Norway’s Austgulen hit the first three of the game, but Malta responded with a Handreck layup to keep Malta ahead by five before Van Vliet hit both shots from the line to make it seven. However, Norway crashed the defensive party to end the quarter at 18-14 for the Maltese.
The second quarter remained a balanced affair and it was threes from Austgulen that kept Norway in contention. Austgulen was yet again Norway’s focal point, levelling terms with a swift team play.
Problems arose when Malta got into foul trouble with 1.47 to go, sending Norway into the bonus. Norway capitalised with free throws and an Austgulen three-ball to take a six-point lead with the last minute remaining in the half, scoring another layup to end the quarter at 35-27 for Norway.
Malta opened the second half with a Diaby three-ball after three minutes, as Norway countered the Maltese offence to keep the margin at seven points in their favour. A pair of Ylenia Bonett steals and fast-break scores by Handreck and herself brought Malta to within three points.
While Malta lead in steals, defensive problems under the board led to an 11-point gap in Norway’s lead by the end of the third quarter at 49-38.
Norway asserted their dominance further as the fourth quarter began with two threes within the first two minutes. On the other end, Malta struggled from deep, having scored just one three-ball throughout the game, a Diaby shot in the third quarter.
With 6.30 to go, Van Vliet reduced it to a 14-point game, as Galea added two more points before Norway responded with another Austgulen three, the Norwegian in terrific form on the day.
Norway were 20 points ahead with two minutes to go and despite the large gap in points, Malta continued to fight, bringing the game to within 16 through baskets from Van Vliet and Xerri. However, it was too late to stage a comeback as Malta had to settle for Bronze at the sound of the final buzzer.
MALTA S. Abela 13, S. De Martino, M. Riolo, A. Van Vliet 12, J. Xerri 4, N. Agius, Y. Bonett 4, C. Ciantar, K. Galea 2, D. galea, J. Diaby 9, N. Handreck 4.
NORWAY S. Austgulen 39, S. Ahmadi, T. Halvorsen 4, T. Moen 2, K. Sanford 11, S. Jacobsen 4, M. Landstrom, J. McCarthy 2, F. Mohammad, I. Selvik, L. Johannessen, K. Teigland 2.