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Bronze in Belgium

The Sasol SA wheelchair basketball team put in a superb defensive effort on Sunday to defeat hosts Belgium 52-38 in a play-off for third in the seventh Valentine Basketball Tournament played in Blankenberge, Belgium.

This was the first of five international tournaments the South Africans will compete in this year in an important part of their preparation for the 2012 London Paralympics.

After a tough tournament with strong competition, it was a good way for the South Africans to finish. “Third is so much better than taking the wooden spoon,” said an elated coach Patrick Fick afterwards.

It was a tense opening quarter as the teams shared the spoils at 8-8, and the South Africans must have felt tense as halftime was reached with Belgium 20-16 up, but the break was enough for the self-belief to sink in and the tide to be turned.

“We went to what we worked on at the training camps,” said Fick, “and that was our man-to-man marking and tight defences.

In the end, it was defence that forced the turnovers and allowed us to get some easy baskets at the other end.

The South Africans got their noses in front in the third quarter, leading 40-34 ahead of the final period.

And they pressed home their advantage, restricting Belgium to just four points in the final quarter, while scoring 12 of their own to open out a 14-point advantage which gave them a comfortable win.

Fick acknowledged that conditioning was a problem for the South Africans at the beginning of their international campaign, but was pleased with the way the young players making up the touring party matured during a tough tournament.

“They played so well as a team, and they did it without any of the big-name players, or superstars,” he said. “These guys took responsibility.”

He also acknowledged the obvious superiority of the Canadian and Holland teams – their margins of victory were 15 and 33 points respectively — but said he wanted to work on the South African strengths.

“I want to develop a reputation as being a tough defensive unit,” he said, “and we saw today how that can win us tight games.”