A 19-6 run by GB in the game’s final 4:33 made all the difference in a low scoring contest as Coach Buceta’s side pulled away to a comfortable 67-53 victory against #5 ranked Canada in Manchester.
Talented guard Karlie Samuelson was integral to that late burst as she scored five of her 16 points in the game’s final quarter, with Jo Leedham adding five more down the stretch.
“Canada are obviously a great team, and it’s the first time the whole squad has been together so these games against Canada give us a lot of confidence,” said Samuelson. “We know how tough EuroBasket is going to be, so we’ve been looking forward to these warm-up games and we’re getting ready.”
Samuelson (16 points, three rebounds, three steals) was also able to help GB grab an early advantage, but not before a slow start to the game with little scoring from either team in the opening four minutes. Temi Fagbenle (10 points, nine rebounds, two assists, two steals) was key in restricting the visitors to just seven points in that opening frame, displaying a high motor from the outset to fight for loose balls and contest everything that came her way. That defensive pressure allowed Samuelson, Cheridene Green and Chantelle Handy to push GB to a 19-7 lead after one.
Canada’s WNBA talent Kayla Alexander (12 points, nine rebounds) opened her account for the evening to begin the second quarter before Fagbenle went to work at the other end, twisting and turning down low to create space and push the GB advantage past the 10-point mark once again. From there, GB began to lose their edge, and a dip in execution saw Coach Buceta quickly call for a time out with 5:21 left in the half.
Samuelson resumed her scoring touch immediately, knocking down her third triple of the half to once again give GB a double digit lead with Canada’s 6’6” Ruth Hamblin (13 points, five rebounds, five blocks) on the court, Canada were looking for miss-matches to get back into the contest. Despite the forward’s prowess to force defensive switches in pick and roll situations, the GB defence stood strong regardless of who was covering down low, fighting tenaciously to make every look as difficult as possible.
The half concluded with a spectacular through-the-legs assist from Canada’s Miah-Marie Langlois as she found Alexander for an easy basket, sending the North Americans to the locker room trailing 29-24.
Despite the positive to end the half, Canada couldn’t continue that momentum as the third quarter began. Sloppy interior defence provided Leedham (16 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two steals) then Fagbenle with an easy path to the rim, but not before Canada had opened the period with a triple to reduce the difference to just two.
Leedham continued to be the aggressor though, forcing her way to the rim more frequently as Canada were forced to adjust. With Leedham then taking a back seat, Rachael Vanderwal (six points, two rebounds) took over on the drive and the GB lead was at double digits once more. That spurred Canada into life though and they enjoyed the better of things to close the frame. GB once again lost their edge, leaving the difference at just six points with 10 minutes remaining at 43-37 GB.
Wanting to close the game strong, Coach Buceta sent out his starting five of Jones, Handy, Leedham, Fagbenle and Samuelson to begin the fourth but they couldn’t replicate their hot start to the game. A long ball from Georgia Jones was her first basket of the evening and helped keep Canada at bay as both teams looked for a way to make the telling contribution to the match.
It looked as though Canada might be on a charge as Hamblin reduced the difference to one following more good work in the low post, but Eilidh Simpson popped up with a triple that ultimately kick started GB’s decisive run that put the game to bed.
“The wins are important because it’s always good to win, but the most important is not the wins but the way the team played and improved in the last week,” said GB Head Coach Jose Maria Buceta, reflecting on the victory. “Canada are a very strong team and it was a very difficult test for us. I think we have to be happy about this test but of course we still have to improve some things in order to arrive at EuroBasket in the state that we need to win there.”
GB now head to Spain for further warm-up matches against Spain and Sweden before EuroBasket gets underway on 27 June 2019 with an opening game against hosts Latvia.