Despite the faultless shooting of Jhaniele Fowler, the Vitality Roses produced an exceptional third quarter which powered them towards a 56-48 victory.
The Roses started quickly – profiting from two early turnovers of possession to take an early 4-1 advantage. Great work from Jo Harten set up Helen Housby to convert a rebound to stretch that lead out still further to 8-2, and that margin was maintained until Housby was penalised for footwork in the circle.
That triggered a Jamaican comeback, with Fowler excelling as the Sunshine Girls got back to within a single goal. However, Housby made no mistake with an opportunity in the final seconds of the quarter which restored the hosts’ two-goal cushion at the end of the first 15 minutes – 14-12.
The atmosphere inside the M&S Bank Arena went up a notch as the teams re-entered the court for the second quarter, and Eboni Usoro-Brown – making her 100th international appearance – responded with a great piece of defending to win back possession for the hosts. Following that, the Vitality Roses stretched their lead back out to four, but once again, Fowler’s strength and composure in the circle ensured Jamaica found a way back.
The Sunshine Girls took the lead for the first time since the opening stages with five minutes of the half remaining, but wonderful work by first Guthrie then Geva Mentor wrestled momentum back for the Roses. As in the first half, Housby had the ball in her hands as the clocked ticked down to end the quarter, and once again she made no mistake to give England back their two-goal advantage – 28-26.
The Vitality Roses carried on that impetus with a blistering start to the third quarter, stretching their lead out to five.
Jamaica, however, again came back, with their defence put increasing amounts of pressure on the Roses’ attack and slowing proceedings down. Adean Thomas at centre was competing readily with the inspired Guthrie as the Sunshine Girls brought the score back to 34-32.
Via improved shooting from Harten and one particularly impressive piece of play from Jade Clarke, though, the Roses again began to build a lead. Sloppy play from Jamaica and increased space in the circle for Harten and Housby saw England race into a 36-44 lead at the end of the third quarter, a period of the game which would turn out to be decisive.
The Roses came out of the blocks fastest in the final quarter, with three goals, but the Sunshine Girls matched that almost instantly; the speed at which the Jamaicans transitioned play showed their remaining belief that they could still overturn the deficit.
However, the irrepressible Guthrie seemed forever on hand to quash Jamaican hopes, finding turnover ball in seemingly impossible situations.
She and her team-mates were applauded off by a rapturous Liverpool crowd at the final whistle, after their 58-46 edged them closer to the semi-finals and put Jamaica’s final four hopes in real doubt.
Jhaniele Fowler, Jamaican goal shooter and captain said:
“To be honest, the expectations were great and we have a talent team, but talented teams also finish last sometimes so I guess we have to fight hard to come back again.”
Serena Guthrie, England captain and player of the match said:
“Obviously we’re very pleased. They’re a tough team and we knew we were going to be in for one hell of a game and it was that. It was a high quality game and it was probably our first real test so to come off, after what is our fourth game in a row, having put in a performance like that, I think we can take a lot of confidence from that going forwards.”
Eboni Usoro-Brown spoke of her 100 caps: “It feels incredible to get 100 caps, just as special as getting my first but I think it’s the girls that really made it. We have such comradery off the court and I think everyone today was sticking together, building through the four quarters and getting that end result.
“The crowd has been absolutely phenomenal, I feel like its been getting bigger and bigger each match. The moment we walk out the support is absolutely electrifying and it really does help us on court so hopefully it will continue through the rest of the competition, but we are so grateful for each and every one of those fans that are turning up or tuning in to support us
“I think when you have to play against a Jamaica team that performed like they did yesterday you know they’re going to come out fighting. I think we had to really maintain our composure and it was going to be a grind out there, it wasn’t going to happen in the first or second quarter but I think it was the third quarter where we managed to break them and then push on in the final quarter.”