IRISH captain Edel Thornton finished as Ireland's leading scorer on 16 points in their defeat away to Czech Republic in the final game of the FIBA Women’s EuroBasket 2023 Qualifiers.
Coach James Weldon was lefted to lament a “really frustrating” first quarter as despite strong performances from Edel Thornton, who finished with 16 points, three rebounds and four assists, and Bridget Herlihy, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds, Ireland couldn’t spring an upset in Prague against a side who are 22nd in the FIBA world rankings.
Cork's Orla O'Reilly had five points while another Leesider Mia Furlong was also in the squad.
Ireland started brightly, they led 12-10 midway through the first after Dayna Finn’s three-point jump shot. With a little over three minutes to go in the first quarter Sarah Hickey came on for her international debut, she made an almost immediate impact with a steal and assist for Claire Melia and Ireland trailed 16-14 with 2’10” remaining. That was to be Ireland’s last points of the quarter, the Czechs opened up a 26-14 lead by the end of it.
Simona Sklenarova’s driving layup two and a half minutes into the second quarter completed a 16-point run for the Czechs, to put them 32-14 ahead and give Ireland an uphill task. That run was finally snapped by Herlihy’s three-point jump shot in the third minute of the second quarter, Ireland trailed 32-17.
But the Czechs rattled off five more points after that, only for Ireland to respond positively, when captain Edel Thornton landed a nice three from the left, followed by a driving layup from Herlihy and it was 37-22. With two minutes to go the gap was 12 points, following Finn’s two-point jump shot to trail 39-27. However, by the end of the quarter, the Czechs added to their tally, Natálie Stoupalova lay-up just before the half-time buzzer made it 43-27.
Ireland needed a quick start to the third, but instead, Veronika Vorackova’s early layup indicated that the home side had no intention of letting them back into it. They had a 20-point advantage four and a half minutes in when Renata Brezinova converted from the three-point line to make it 50-30. A pair of Edel Thornton free throws and Herlihy’s three reduced the deficit straight afterward, but the Czechs continued to keep Ireland at arms’ length and led 58-39 by the end of the third.
Ireland began the fourth with a pair of threes from Edel Thornton and Michelle Clarke, either side of Veronika Vorackova’s layup, to make it 60-45. Jump shots from Finn and Melia and it was a 13-point game, 62-49, with 5’28” to go. Ireland kept plugging away and outscored their opponents in the final quarter 18-16, but ultimately the Czechs proved to be too strong, winning 74-57.
“The first quarter was really frustrating, we gave up 12 points in transition and that was an area where we really wanted to target and not give up some of those easy points and unfortunately we dug ourselves that bit of a hole, but these girls never give up and they dug deep and stuck together. It was a good performance to come here, to a nation that is probably going to qualify for their 15th major championship in a row this weekend.
"I do believe these girls have gained respect around Europe, talking to a lot of friends around Europe – they’re hugely encouraged with the positive steps the team is making forward. More games next summer at this level is vital for the next step of progression.”
Ireland's next qualifying campaign is the FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2025 Qualifiers, which begin in November.
Veronika Vorackova (16), Natalie Stoupalova (16), Petra Holesinska (10), Renata Brezinova (9), Tereza Vyoralova (7).
Edel Thornton (16), Bridget Herlihy (15), Claire Melia (9), Dayna Finn (9), Orla O’Reilly (5).
Gabriela Andelova, Eliska Hamzova, Katerina Zeithammerova, Petra Holesinska, Pamela-Therese Effangova, Tereza Vyoralova, Simona Sklenarova, Veronika Vorackova, Natalie Stoupalova, Emma Cechova, Renata Brezinova, Dominika Paurova.
Michelle Clarke, Dayna Finn, Edel Thornton, Claire Melia, Hannah Thornton, Sorcha Tiernan, Mia Furlong, Áine O’Connor, Bridget Herlihy, Sarah Hickey, Ciara Bracken, Orla O’Reilly.