England will play for Commonwealth Games gold in the basketball today after they outplayed Canada yesterday in a 65-53 semi-final win on the Gold Coast.
One week after losing their opening Pool A game 80-54 to the same opposition, England used pressure defence to keep Canada off balance, pulling 20 points clear early in the second half and then containing Canada’s attempts to rally.
Rachael Vanderwal scored 20 points and Chantelle Pressley added 11 to ensure England will better the bronze medal won in Melbourne in 2006 in the only other time basketball has been played at a Commonwealth Games.
“It means everything,” captain Stef Collins said of securing a medal.
“We knew going into this game Canada were going to be a tough side. We had the opportunity to play them in the preliminary rounds and that was a tough game for us.
“We had to come in with the absolute belief we could get the job done and now we get a gold medal opportunity.”
Vanderwal put the dramatic turnaround from the last meeting down to England’s improvement on the defensive end.
“It was our first game when we played them before. We had a lot of nerves and we were not really together as a team,” she said.
“Tonight we proved what a team we have. Everyone contributed. Our defence has been solid throughout the whole tournament since that first game and that’s what won us the game tonight.”
Vanderwal, like Collins, was part of the Great Britain squad that played at the London Olympics, but she declared this the best night of her career to date.
“I’m going to get a medal tomorrow,” she said. “This is definitely the highlight of my career. It’s very emotional right now.”
England are playing here under the guidance of Great Britain coach Jose Maria Buceta and the Spaniard is loving his first experience of a Commonwealth Games.
“In Spain, if you talk about the Commonwealth Games, people have no idea what this is,” he said. “The other day I got a call from Spanish radio and I said: ‘Look, this is a big thing’.
“We don’t know because we’re not in the Commonwealth, but this is a big thing. Now the Commonwealth Games has an ambassador in Spain because at least one person knows this — me. I will tell everybody how big this is.”
England will be odds-on to take silver as Australia, who routed England 118-55 in pool play, thrashed New Zealand 109-50 in the other semi-final. But England’s underdog status does not concern Buceta.
“We have to be ambitious,” he said. “Do we have any possibility with Australia? If we do we have to take it. We are not stupid, we know Australia are very strong.
“They killed us in the first round, but we’re not going there like Christians to the lions. We’ve got to play the best we can. If after they are better, OK, but we have to be ambitious. We don’t get many opportunities to play in finals.”
As British Basketball continues to battle for funding at home, a guaranteed medal for England’s women — plus a possible medal for Scotland in the men’s competition — could be hugely significant.
“When you’re playing you don’t think about that, but, when you take a step back you realise how important it is,” Vanderwal said. “A medal could go a long way for us to get recognised.
“But that’s out of our control. For us, we’re going to get a medal.”
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