Singapore's fightback proves futile
Botswana's tactics pay off as sluggish start sees S'pore fail in catch-up
A sluggish start saw Singapore left with a mountain to climb.
But, try as they did, the home team's efforts fell just short.
It was a rip-roaring final quarter as Singapore (ranked 17th in the world)succumbed to a 42-38 defeat by Botswana (19th) in their Mission Foods Nations Cup match at the OCBC Arena last night.
The Singapore girls' slow start to the game saw them trail 11-4 at one point, before the first quarter ended 12-7 in favour of the African side.
The second (10-10) and third (9-8 to Botswana) quarters were more evenly matched, but the hosts still trailed by six points heading into the final period.
Botswana extended their lead by another three points early in the final quarter, but, with just six minutes left, a great Singapore comeback suddenly looked on the cards.
Led by substitute goal shooter Yu Mei Ling's efforts - she sank nine of her 10 shots at the net - the hosts clawed back to within three points, with 90 seconds to go.
But Botswana held their nerves to weather the storm, and eventually won by four points.
One key difference between the two sides was the form of their main attackers.
Singapore's Charmaine Soh had a night to forget, scoring only 71 per cent (24 from 34) of her shots.
Botswana's Hildah Binang, meanwhile, was on fire with 34 goals from 38 shots, posting a shot accuracy of 89 per cent.
Singapore coach Ruth Aitken, however, was not downhearted by the narrow defeat.
The New Zealander, who described her players' efforts in the final quarter as "awesome", said: "In the end, when you're play catch-up after being five goals down against a team with the skill level of Botswana, it's really hard.
"While the second and third (quarters) became even, and I really applaud the heart and fight in that last quarter, it was just a little bit too far to catch up.
"But I feel overall, our game was better than yesterday (when the team beat Ireland 52-37)."
When asked about how she planned to tackle her team's habit of starting slow, Aitken joked: "I think I need to run them out here another half an hour before I let them out on the court.
"We have to look at our warm-up and mental preparation to make sure we hit the ground running. That will be our task for tomorrow.
"I think it's about getting the confidence to know how much intensity we need to apply right at the start and just get ourselves more "up" just before we go on, mentally and physically."
Said Botswana coach Sithulile Mhlotshwa: "I am very happy because yesterday we did not play well (in the 46-43 loss to Zambia) and we needed the two points to stay in contention for the medal places.
"Singapore are one of the strongest teams in the competition so that helps us as well.
"We focused on Singapore's weakness. Their goalkeeper (1.96m-tall Chen Li Li) is good in the air so we played (low) bounce balls. But Singapore played a very good game."
Singapore play Canada today and Papua New Guinea - the top ranked side in the six-nation competition - tomorrow, and Zambia on Friday.
The teams play each other once before the top two teams fight it out for the title on Saturday.
Aitken is hopeful last night's defeat will not be disastrous to her side's hopes of making the final.
"At the end, it won't mean much if we go forward positively," she said.
"But we've got some very hard teams still to go.
"It's definitely not what we hoped for, but there's a lot of wins and losses (among the other teams), so we just have to pick ourselves up tomorrow and perform well against Canada and PNG the next day. There's plenty of netball still to be played."