It has been an impressive start to the European Championships Division B campaign for the U16 Women in Oradea. Consecutive wins over Bulgaria, Bosnia and Scotland means the girls are one of only 6 unbeaten teams left in the tournament. Bulgaria were dispatched 83-45 on Friday before a 66-56 win over Bosnia on the Saturday. Sunday saw a match up with rivals Scotland that ended with a lopsided 75-46 score line.
As could be expected for the first game of the tournament, early nerves were on show as Bulgaria pulled off a 10-2 run to start the game, leaving England reeling. Smart adjustments in a timeout from Coach Lee Davie refuelled the squad’s confidence as they settled in to the contest from then on. Perhaps realised that they were giving Bulgaria too much respect and that they were a beatable opponent, the team began to flow on offense as the game progressed. The game was definitely won on the defensive end though as the girls consistently pulled off runs of 5 stops in a row. Relying on their defensive strength meant the team could play comfortably and have fun in the second half, which proved successful as they shot 9/17 from deep to close out the game, a blistering 53%.
(Lee Davie addresses his team against Bulgaria - FIBA Europe)
The team got key contributions from returning players as Holly Winterburn led all scorers with 19 points, while adding 5 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals. Hannah Jump contributed 17 points (5/11 from 3PT) and Loie Webb totalled 10 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists. Charlotte Ellmore came off the bench to be an X-factor on the boards, hauling down a huge 11 rebounds to lead the team. It wasn’t just the seasoned veterans who led the charge as European Championship rookies came off the bench to fill up the box score. Shauna Harrison showed her shooting touch with 15 points while adding 7 rebounds and Maya Hyacienth had 12 points, showing excellent execution in 1 vs 1 situations.
Coach Davie was delighted with how England had played straight out of the gate, "I am extremely proud of the team performance in tonight’s game versus Bulgaria. It’s great to see all the work these girls have been putting in playing out at the highest level, with key contributions coming from all over our roster. When the team concentrates and plays good flowing basketball, we look like a team that will be very difficult to beat. The key now is not to settle, we didn’t come here to celebrate a single victory. We must now push on and continue our preparations for Bosnia & Herzegovina tomorrow.”
Sheffield Hatters' Shauna Harrison suggested nerves did play a part in the game, but they soon cleared once the game got underwat “I was really excited about today's game. It was a nervous start by the team but as soon as we hit our first points all our nerves disappeared and we played with outstanding team spirit. I’m really excited about facing Bosnia tomorrow.”
The excitement wasn't misplaced as the team was brimming with confidence against a significantly more imposing opponent 24 hours later. Bosnia started well, winning the first quarter 16-17 as England had similar problems to the previous day, coming into the game playing with some apprehension. But once the game settled down and the team found their rhythm, England was able to take a small lead into half-time at 35-29.
The message during the break was key. The players needed to remember that they play well when they enjoy the game and to play in the moment, concentrating on one another and the task at hand. As a result, a much more focused England side came out early in the third quarter and numerous bench players showed the strength in depth of this group. Key contributions from all over the roster once again meant that England were too much for Bosnia as they made every possession count down the stretch to clinch a vital 66-56 victory.
England celebrate their victory over Bosnia - Lorraine Dagger)
Holly Winterburn had another fantastic outing as she led all scorers with 19 points while also grabbing 11 rebounds and showing her disruptive nature on defence with 6 steals. In another fantastic game off the bench, Maya Hyacienth had 10 points and 5 rebounds, while locking up Bosnia’s leading scorer who finished with 3 points while going 0/9 from the field. Forward Lauren Saa was a big impact player in this match-up, the undersized forward matching up with Bosnia’s centre but battling for every possession. West Bromwich Albion’s Lauren Saa had 12 points and hauled down 8 rebounds, including 5 offensive rebounds which led to vital second chance opportunities. Ashana Hinds also played her first minutes of the tournament, coming back from injury, to put her body on the line defensively and settle in to her role as a floor general.
After a significantly grittier performance than the Bulgaria game, Coach Davie was impressed his team could win in a multitude of ways if required, “In what turned out to be a very close game, we got timely stops and scores in the fourth quarter to increase the lead to double digits and grind out the win. With Bosnia continuing to pull the game back into reach, our girls made the big plays we needed down the stretch. This game was a great learning experience for all of us after a very good performance against Bulgaria, to follow it up with a grind out win shows that we are versatile as we try to keep on improving.”
A tired Lauren Saa also paid tribute to how hard Bosnia made the game, "The game today was very tough because it was a really intense battle. We worked well as a team, making the extra to pass to find open shots and played aggressively at both ends of the floor."
After 2 wins, England came into their third game of the tournament more than ready for their local rivals. Preparation was key going into the Scotland game as their opponents sat 0-2 with two close losses and were eager to get a win. England started the game really well, jumping out to an early lead whilst getting stops on defence and running out for fast break scores. Katie Richards gave the team really good early minutes in her first start of the tournament as England looked to match up with the size of Scotland’s inside players. Consistent offensive execution allowed England to take a commanding 37-23 lead after the 2nd quarter.
The half time break saw adjustments made to the mind-set of the team, coming out to not simply settle for good quality basketball but looking be better than their opposition every single possession. This tweaking paid dividends as England came out aggressively at both ends of the court to gradually extend the lead past 20. Moving into the final quarter and up 54-34, inconsistencies gradually began to creep into the performance but not before England enjoyed a 14-0 run through the first 5 minutes to take the game out of reach. That run was spurred on by 8 straight points from Shauna Harrison off the bench. After a Scotland time-out, England began to lose focus, allowing Scotland to go on a 9-0 run of their own to show that they still had fight in them. However, the victory was never in doubt and England came away 3-0.
(The England bench encourage the team vs Scotland - Lorraine Dagger)
Holly Winterburn was dynamic offensively to lead all scorers with 20 points, she now leads the entire tournament in scoring after three games. She also had another good game on the boards, pulling in 9 rebounds and was disruptive as ever with 2 steals to her name. The real X-factor in this game was Shauna Harrison, who came back from missing the Bosnia game due to injury to make a huge impact off the bench. In only 7 minutes of game time, due to an injury-related minute restriction, Harrison was on fire as she had 15 points, shooting 3 of 4 from three-point range, including the aforementioned 8 straight points to kick start the fourth quarter. Loie Webb played well, logging big minutes for the team and limiting the turnovers which have plagued her thus far. She also began to find her shot, knocking down two from deep on her way to 9 points, 8 rebounds and 3 steals.
Coach Davie, though happy with another W, saw the biggest gains from his roster continuing to improve as the tournament progresses, "When we concentrate on our team aims and move the ball at speed we really get good looks on offence. We have to remember to be relentless in our ball and player movement, never letting up as we put pressure on the defence. We look really good when we make smart decisions and attack quickly. We did a good job on the boards today, converting second chances by putting pressure on Scotland’s rim. That pressure resulted in a number of trips to the line, but we must convert our free throws to ensure we have the best chance to win when as games get tougher and tougher.”
During their 3-0 run, the stats don’t highlight the breadth and depth of the contributions as the coaches recognise that on any given night, this squad is deep with talent that can produce in a variety of ways. One such example is the play of Maya Hyacienth who, despite playing restricted minutes which kept her out of most of the second half, did a fantastic job on defence by limiting Scotland’s leading scorer Ruth Allison to just 5 points in the first half.
England will look to move to 4-0 with a game against Finland up next on Tuesday. Tip for that game is 16:00 and you can follow on Live Stats by clicking here.
Report courtesy of U16W Performance Analyst Barney Blake