CHRIST CHURCH, Barbados — The Virgin Islands Women's National Basketball Team, competing for the first time in 26 years, went into an early eight-minute scoring drought and lost 66-63 to Trinidad & Tobago in the first game of the Caribbean Basketball Championships.
The Virgin Islands, which trailed for most of the game, chipped away at an early 13-point deficit before finally taking a 63-62 lead with 20 seconds remaining. After Tajama Abraham's free throw gave the Virgin Islands the 63-62 lead, Trinidad and Tobago's Pietra Gayne ended the contest with four straight free throws to seal the victory. Gayne's first set of free throws gave Trinidad & Tobago a 64-63 lead with 11 seconds.
Virgin Islands guard D'Mour King, who plays at Dillard University in New Orleans, missed a shot with time running out and Gayne was fouled after grabbing the rebound with less than a second remaining. Gayne hit the next two free throws for the final margin of victory.
The Virgin Islands was plagued by early turnovers. Seconds into the contest, Abraham scored the first basket of the game and the Virgin Islands went scoreless over the next eight minutes. After Abraham's basket, Trinidad & Tobago scored the next 15 points and the Virgin Islands did not end the drought until Lisa Rhymer hit one of two free throws with 11 minutes, 43 seconds remaining in the first half.
Abraham, the 1997 Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Year, scored 15 points and Natasha Lettsome, an Appalachian State forward, poured in 17 points for the Virgin Islands, one of the tournament favorites even though the team has not competed in international competition since 1974.
"We wanted to have a team present at these games and to be competitive," said Raymond Richards, president of the Virgin Islands Basketball Federation. "It was obvious they were a little nervous in their first international game."
Eight of the 12 Virgin Islands players have college basketball experience. Abraham has WNBA experience. Virgin Islands coach Albert Hazard said he is optimistic of his squad's chances of regrouping to win the six-team tournament. He said the team broke the ice Sunday, "and now we have to come back and prove ourselves."
The V.I. Women's will play Guyana at 3 p.m. Monday at the Wildey Gym in the Sir Garfield Sobers Sports Complex, site of all games. Six teams – Virgin Islands, Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago – are grouped in the women division. Each team will play the other once and the top four squads will advance to the medal round. The championship is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday and can be seen live throughout the Caribbean. The Virgin Islands Men's team will start play at noon Monday against St. Kitts/Nevis.

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