A sputtering start, precipitated by costly turnovers, left Singapore ruing what might have been against Sri Lanka at the Asian Netball Championship last night, as the hosts fell to a 74-61 defeat.
Both teams are in the Cup group (Group E) comprising the top four from the previous round and were playing their first games of the second round.
Sri Lanka's Tharjini Sivalingam was at her unstoppable best, scoring 72 of her team's 74 goals and missing only four times to record a 95 per cent accuracy rate at the OCBC Arena.
But the key to victory for Singapore was never in stopping the 2.08m goal-shooter but in denying her supply, and it could have been a very different game had they managed to capitalise on three successive occasions in the first quarter when she was rebuffed in a crucial two-minute stretch.
Instead, possession was given away each time with Sri Lanka building an 18-12 lead that was never relinquished.
"What we needed to do was to concentrate on our own game and implement the structures that we practised and, for the majority, I thought we did very well," said Singapore coach Natalie Milicich.
"But you're punished if you don't take care of the ball. Five or six turnovers means 12 goals for them and that was the difference in the end."
A deflated Singapore managed to rally midway into the second quarter but still could not find a way to stop the opponents' linchpin consistently, going into the break down by nine goals at 37-28.
TOO MANY MISTAKES
For the majority I thought we did very well... But you're punished if you don't take care of the ball. Five or six turnovers means 12 goals for them and that was the difference in the end.
NATALIE MILICICH, Singapore coach, on the crucial factor that led to the team's loss.
The hosts started with 1.96m Chen Lili, who had returned from a knee injury recently following a seven-month layoff, bearing the bulk of the responsibility for defending Tharjini. But it was her 1.73m fellow goalkeeper Sindhu Nair who found more success.
Said Milicich: "I think Lili still needs a bit of time to find her feet. She hasn't played that much netball recently and it was always going to be a test today. It was always our plan for Sindhu to come in for Lili."
The game plan became apparent only in the final quarter as the team produced some tenacious defending to win it 19-16 and narrow the deficit, with Nair drawing the loudest cheers of the night when she intercepted one of the endless stream of lob passes to Tharjini.
"We started off shaky but I'm very happy that the team managed to work together and keep to our strategy," said the 22-year-old.
"(In the fourth quarter) everyone had their hands up, the attackers ran back to defend and the bench and crowd were very supportive."
Defending champions Malaysia beat Hong Kong 53-43 in the earlier Group E game. Singapore will face Hong Kong today, while Malaysia take on Sri Lanka.