Britain takes long-sought basketball win

British basketball fans now have something more than a moral victory to celebrate after the Olympic hosts beat China 90-58 on Monday in a men's preliminary round contest that could give the game a boost.

"It's huge. It's GB's first win ever at the Olympics. It's an incredible feeling to finally get that win," British forward Joel Freeland said.

The British (1-4) entered the Olympics ranked 43rd in the world while China (0-5) was rated 10th. Both teams had already been eliminated from any chance of reaching the medal playoffs.

"It would have been better if we could have gotten through. We were so close," Freeland said. "But it was a great finish."

Britain's women went winless the past 10 days and the men went winless in group play in 1948, including a 54-25 loss to China, as well as their first four games this time around.

"Winning the first game in Olympic history is big for us, but we set our goals a little higher and made our country proud," former NBA big man Pops Mensah-Bonsu said. "It feels great and hopefully the future is bright."

Luol Deng of the NBA's Chicago Bulls hopes the victory helped expose the sport enough in Britain to provide a base for a new generation of players.

"Hopefully we showed everyone we have talent. Hopefully it will be more popular and there will be more attention for it," Deng said.

"It means a lot. We have come a long way from when we were in the third level of FIBA. This was the vision we had. We've taken steps in the right direction. We still have a ways to go. This is a good start."

Britain earned a moral victory by scaring World No. 2 Spain before falling 79-78 and put a fright into Brazil before falling 67-62.

"It feels good to get the victory," British forward Drew Sullivan said. "I'm really, really happy. We have been playing well for a long time.@

"I hope it has gotten bigger," Freeland added. "People have gotten a taste of it and they like it. I'm sure it won't be as much as football. It's a push in the right direction."

Freeland is off in a new direction as well, set to join the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers.

"It's going to be a new phase in my career," he said. "I'm in position to get ready. I have to know what it feels like. I've got to do whatever it takes to be ready for the NBA. That's why I'm going over there a month early."

Kieron Achara scored a game-high 16 points and hoped he helped blaze a trail of his own.

"Basketball is not big in this country. This is the start of something," he said. "Hopefully the sport can grow from here."

China's winless finish was a significant stumble for a team that reached the last eight in three of the past four Olympic tournaments but now lacks the size and skill of retired NBA 2.29m star centre Yao Ming.

The only other time the Chinese went winless in Olympic men's basketball was at Barcelona in 1992.

Wang Zhizhi, China's first NBA player, scored a team-high 11 points in his Olympic farewell and said future Chinese teams must focus harder on defence.

"We shouldn't lose confidence as we will improve in the future," Wang said. "There are still differences in strength in comparison to other teams. Compared to the world's great teams, we lack in defence. We need to practice defence."

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