The Belgium women’s national basketball team defeated Hungary 72-56 in an Olympic qualifying tournament playoff game on Saturday. With the win Belgium also salvages a disappointing run in FIBA Women’s EuroBasket 2019.
With the win, the Belgian Cats punched their tickets to next year’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament. That tournament of 16 teams will ultimately decide which 10 teams make the Olympics along with Japan, the Olympic hosts, and the United States, the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup champions. But in a new change of FIBA rules, Japan and the United States still have to play in the tournament next year, which means that they take two of the 16 spots in next year’s tournament.
How did this game go? Not well at all in the beginning. The Belgians allowed Hungary to lead 17-12 after the first quarter. But they put up a 45-20 run on them in the next two quarters which allowed the Cats to coast their way to an Olympic berth.
Kim Mestdagh and Julie Allemand scored 17 points each in the win. Mestdagh in particular drained five of her ten three point shots while Allemand made two more from long range. Of the Belgian players, Allemand looked the strongest in their last three games because she averaged 17 points per game in each of them.
So that leads us to Emma Meesseman. She laid a stinker in the shooting department as she only scored 4 points on 2-of-9 shooting. Also, Meesseman made few attempts to try to get foul shots ... like her early Mystics days when we would be quick to point out that she is “passive.” In fact, Meesseman didn’t attempt ONE free throw.
Of course, you have to understand that Meesseman doesn’t think about shooting the same way that American fans like you and I do. So if her shot isn’t falling, Meesseman won’t flail her arms at the basket like ... Tayler Hill often did in the last couple years, desperately trying to get fouled during a poor shot attempt. Even Elena Delle Donne resorts to that tactic.
So instead, we saw Meesseman dish 7 assists and steal the ball 4 more times. In fact, she was definitely a force in this game in every way ... except shooting the ball. Meesseman averaged 19.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game in EuroBasket.
In short, this game was a blowout, but the Belgian team was forced to find a way to win this game without giving the ball to Meesseman with their normal game plan. And though they were favored to win this game anyway, I’m not sure if the Belgian Cats would have pulled this through if Meesseman wasn’t the de facto point guard and letting others like Allemand shine as scorers.
Two years ago, Belgium was a complete unknown to women’s basketball fans unless you saw the rise of their youth teams who are now at the senior level. They were able to crash the EuroBasket and World Cup parties because of that.
But now, teams, especially European ones, don’t consider Belgium a soft Brussels waffle anymore on the schedule
It wasn’t long ago when the Netherlands was Belgium’s top rival and a big 2017 win over the Dutch in Ieper showed us why Meesseman values playing on the Belgian national team so much. And though she hasn’t said it as far as I know, the Netherlands shares a common border, history and the Dutch language with Belgium, so the natural rivalry is always there. It’s like when the United States plays Canada or Mexico in various sports.
However, the Dutch never made Women’s EuroBasket since 1989, so they are nowhere near the same level as the Belgians on a playing level. Belgium wants to assert themselves as a power in Europe and world now. So playing (and beating) France, Spain, Australia and the United States is the club they want to be a part of.
In this tournament, the Belgians were unable to recapture that magic of 2017 and 2018. That’s OK, because the surprise factor’s gone. Mestdagh noted that in an interview with FIBA’s Paul Nilsen on June 26.
It is reasonable to assume that there will be a regression because the Belgians are getting used to having a target on their backs. And that happened in this tournament. At the same time, Belgium showed that they ultimately didn’t break, even when they bended after playing in a tough Group D draw and lost a heartbreaker to France in the quarterfinals.
Congratulations to Belgium for clinching a berth to next year’s Olympic qualifying tournament.