England is just one win away from a historic Commonwealth Games gold medal after securing a 65-53 victory over Canada on the Gold Coast.
In less than 24 hours, England will play for gold against Australia, safe in the knowledge that they will improve on their bronze medal campaign from the Melbourne Commonwealth Games in 2006.
Having snatched the lead less than five minutes into the game, England never surrendered it from that moment on as Rachael Vanderwal (20 points, two rebounds and six assists), Chantelle Pressley (11 points, five rebounds and three blocks) and Stef Collins (seven points, eight rebounds and two assists) simply willed their team to victory.
Collins was in tears immediately following the contest as the realisation of their achievement began to sink in, but the captain knows that the job is far from over.
“We’ve all played together for so long, maybe not representing England but representing GB, it just means so much to us,” Collins said. “For some of us who have played for so long, it means the world. I love these girls so much – I think we have a really good bond.”
In a reversal of results from the pool games, England shrugged off a slow start as Vanderwal stayed aggressive on the offensive end – just as she did in the quarter-final against Jamaica – to earn the team’s first points from the foul line.
The early injection of Hannah Shaw and Pressley into the game paid immediate dividends as they rattled off six quick points to claim the lead. Pressley, in particular, looked energetic for England as her athleticism led to a number of easy baskets.
Whether England was foxing in the pool games or simply changed tactics after being on the wrong end of a 54-80 loss in Townsville, there was a noticeable difference in coach Jose Buceta’s game plan. England’s pressure defence was telling as they forced Canada into 15 first-half turnovers, while they played a running game in offence for the first time in the tournament instead of looking to score out of the half-court.
“We changed the defence as Canada knew more about what we'd do from the first game,” Buceta said. “We tried to put more pressure on the ball, deny the passing and stop the three-point shot as they shot very well in the last game against us.”
“I think the defence was the key to the game, especially in the first half."
With Canada struggling to adapt, England was able to spark a 10-0 run either side of quarter-time to burst the game open. A Georgia Jones (seven points, three rebounds and two assists) bucket led to back-to-back triples from Vanderwal and Eilidh Simpson (six points and two assists), and in the blink of an eye, the margin had reached double-digits.
While Dallas Wings centre Ruth Hamblin (21 points and 10 rebounds) was trying her best to stem the bleeding for Canada, England appeared to have every answer as they used a 19-5 second quarter to secure a 35-19 advantage at half-time.
"Our defence has been solid throughout the tournament after that first game, and that's what won us the game today," Vanderwal said. "We changed up our defensive plan today and that surprised them, got them back on their heels. We played pressure D for 40 minutes and really took it to them.”
“It was our first game up against Canada before and we had a lot of nerves, we weren't really together as a team yet. Tonight we proved what a team we have, everyone contributed. This is probably the biggest win internationally for me, I'm going to get a medal tomorrow! It's up there as number one as the highlight of my career."
While both teams found scoring difficult to start the third quarter, Collins opened England’s account from beyond the arc before Melita Emanuel-Carr (six points) followed suit with a triple off a bank.
The long-range sniping led to a 25-1 advantage in bench points midway through the term, and when Emanuel-Carr stroked as second triple on the three-quarter-time buzzer, England had one hand on a medal.
Leading 54-38 at the final change, Canada started with a 6-0 run to reduce the lead to 10 but Vanderwal, Jones and Azania Stewart (six points and 12 rebounds) found a way to keep the scoreboard ticking over as England recorded a famous victory.
"We have to be ambitious, do we have the possibility to beat Australia?” Buceta asked following the game. “They're very strong but we are going to go there, play the game and do the best we can. We don't have many opportunities to play Finals, so we'll do our best."
Tomorrow morning’s Gold Medal match will take place at 11:30am UK time against Australia.