They started with a bang and never relented. Australia wiped Jamaica from the court in the last pool match of the Commonwealth Games to the tune of 21 goals.
In the process, Australia took top spot on the Pool A ladder, booking a semi final showdown with the Silver Ferns, the 72-51 slap their best win against the Sunshine Girls in almost seven years.
Australia started with a line-up that had seen a lot of game time together during the most recent Constellation Cup and Quad Series. Jamaica, too, went with a familiar seven – one that had had considerable success in New Zealand last month.
Australia’s first centre pass was quickly converted through Caitlin Bassett. Passing errors from both sides took up the following minute, with pressure from the Aussie attack end smothering Jamaica’s attempts in transition.
Jhaniele Fowler doesn’t shoot far from the post most of the time, but she’s almost impossible to compete with in the air. Not only does she have a significant height advantage over any defender, but her other weapon is her sheer size and strength.
Last night the two goal keepers Courtney Bruce and Laura Geitz, in particular, picked the aerial portion of her game apart. Aided by Jo Weston and April Brandley, Australia’s circle defenders nudged their way into the smallest of spaces to disrupt and attack any ball that was aimed for Fowler.
The match up of rising star Shamera Sterling and veteran Australian captain Caitlin Bassett was one for the ages. Sterling is all arms and legs, a bit like Basset was when she made her debut in the green and gold nearly a decade ago. Having never faced each other before, Bassett used her superior court awareness to clear room around Sterling for more effective avenue to goal.
Australia clammered to a 12-7 lead as Sterling wiped the floor in a contest with Bassett. The lead hit seven and the contest switched from clean break to brute challenge every couple of seconds.
When in doubt, Jamaica went long and high to Fowler-Reid, but with every turnover they committed, Jamaica didn’t employ a defensive set up in attack – Weston and Bruce, in particular, had ample space and time to drive and deliver though the court.
Australia went to the first change leading 21-14, Jamaica having amassed seventeen penalties to eight while committing nine turnovers.
Playing at a pace usually reserved for Jamaican sprinters, Australia were literally running away from the Sunshine Girls. It was particularly troubling for Sterling and Facey, who got caught up in the timing as Bassett and Pettit’s steadiness on the shot in the circle took them to a 30-18 lead.
In a bid to slow the game down, Vangalee Williams moved to GD and Jodi Ward on at WD. It worked in part, as the margin was cut back to five.
Weston doing a power of work to drive Shanice Beckford high up the court and then double back to close off access to Fowler. A Simpson special found Pratley on the baseline on the stroke of halftime.
Australian coached Lisa Alexander almost cleared the bench after half time. A move not made in hesitancy, but to brag about the depth in the team.
The margin swelled to double figures as Fowler-Reid had a not-so-quiet word to umpire mid-play with Laura Geitz starting to rattle her.
Ward, too, tried to take matter into her own hands, stomping on Madi Robinson’s foot on the Australian centre pass – remincent of Sharon Wiles’ tactics on Shelley O’Donnell at the 1999 World Cup that saw her sent from the court.
Romelda Aiken came into the match with just minutes to go in the third quarter. At the other end, Caitlin Thwaites was rock-solid, nailing 13 goals straight as Australia planted their foot firmly on the pedal. The 19-9 quarter gave plenty of breathing space at the last change.
Steph Wood replaced Pettitt and Weston returned one the wing to give Simpson a well-earned breather.
There were loose hands in the last quarter from both sides, but the battle had been won much earlier.
Australia’s experience was the difference, coupled with their ability to change up their second phase at a whim, and the terrific speed and unerring accuracy they controlled for the most part.
Text book. Clinical. Australia’s charge to gold rolls on.
Australia 72 def Jamaica 51
(21-14, 36-29, 55-36, 72-51)
Bassett 22/23 96%
Pettitt 20/21 95%
Thwaites 22/22 100%
Wood 8/10 80%
Fowler 30/32 94%
Beckford 8/12 67%
Aiken 11/14 79%
Robinson 2/2 100%
Starting line ups
GS Caitlin Bassett
GA Susan Pettitt
WA Madi Robinson
C Kim Ravaillion
WD Gabi Simpson
GD Jo Weston
GK Courtney Bruce
GS Jhaniele Fowler
GA Shanice Beckford
WA Nicole Dixon
C Paula Thompson
WD Vangelee Williams
GD Stacian Facey
GK Shamera Sterling
What they said
Lisa Alexander, Australian coach
Can you remember a stronger shooting line up than the one you have access to at the moment?
“In some ways the 1987 team was like that, the World Cup team, if I’m thinking back to when I was playing actually. They played as combinations. What I think we do better is the goal attacks can play with any shooter and vice versa, so we’re multi-dimensional with that.”
Were the changes at half-time pre-planned?
“We never pre-plan our changes. We obviously try and load-manage through a tournament, so generally speaking we always read what we see and that’s what we saw tonight. We thought that C-Bass held up her end in the first half. Got a little bit scratchy in the second quarter. Caity (Thwaites) came on and got that movement out there, which was really nice. Susan played extremely well tonight.”
There was great circle defence tonight, but also the midcourt press
“We were really pleased with that. I’m glad you noticed because we’ve been working really hard on it. We’re off the body – we’re trying not to get as many contact penalties.”
Were you pleased with Weston and Brandley’s efforts up the court as well as in the circle?
“We’ve worked really hard on that too, the hedging work – which is pushing them up high and wide and then coming back and creating that confusion. I think both defensive combinations brought something different. Jo and Courtney, Courtney’s athleticism, her body and the other two – Geitzy with her finesse and her experience in keeper was really great to watch.”
It got a little willing towards the end of the third quarter. Were you pleased with the composure of the team?
“We were really pleased with their control. I thought that we’d been like that the whole tournament and we just continued to be like that. We know we’re not going to win any arguments with an umpire so do the right thing. That’s really easy. If you do the right thing, you’ll be fine.”
A Semi Final now against New Zealand – have you had a chance to look at them across the week and particularly this morning?
“We’ve had a lot of time watching New Zealand. Obviously with our Constellation Cup series, we’ve watched them in this tournament. We know that they’re hurting at the moment, but rest assured, we’ll be preparing for them like nobody’s business for Saturday.”
Jhaniele Fowler, Jamaica
“I felt we started really slow and Australia is an awesome team. We cannot afford to start slow on them – they got a good run and they capitalised on it.”
On the pressure applied by Australia to restrict easy feeding
“Yeah, they did put a lot of pressure out in the midcourt and our girls couldn’t see down. But I reckon we just need to put some more work in and getting around those hands – probably stepping around the hands and stepping back, just those tactics that work to get away.”
On how Jamaica can stay focused on their game during an exciting event
“That’s a very good question – the thing is, we know how to keep ourselves in check and the coaches don’t have to be running around to say we have to do this, because we know what we’re here for and it’s not to be distracted by whatever else is around us. So that’s pretty good that we’ve been staying in check and doing what we need to do. We (and the Jamaican athletes) are all in the same building and we run into them and stuff. We’re all star athletes at the end of the day. I like to think that, we clap them, we watch out for them and we cheer for them, but we are very focused.”
Caitlin Bassett, Australia
“With such a strong shooter like Jhaniele Fowler-Reid in that back end, you have to work super hard out in front. Courtney and Geitzy did an amazing job. Our plan was just to hit them hard in every single quarter that we came out there. We definitely saw them fatigue a little bit and we had the luxury of fresh legs and some really good combinations to put out there.”
On whether she’s happy with the shooting end and the confidence that can give to the team
“I guess our job as shooters is to put the ball through the ring and the defenders are working their butts off to get it to us, so we want to reward them. Marg Caldow our shooting coach, she expects the best of us, and you know, it was Susan Pettitt’s first miss tonight, which from the competition so far is absolutely incredible, so, yeah our shooters are pretty happy with how they’re going.”
The scorelines seem to show you haven’t been threatened much in pool play?
“I don’t think scores are a reflection – Jamaica really pushed us today. The first half was really physical and tight, it wasn’t til we broke away a bit in that third quarter that things opened up. It was the same with South Africa. I think we’re definitely prepared heading into the finals.”
How have you viewed Madi Robinson’s journey from being let go to being back in the team?
“Yeah definitely, all credit to her! She’s gone away and listened to the feedback she’s been given, come back even bigger and better. Sometimes having a mental and physical break from the game and coming back, I think her and Geitzy have brought back that freshness and that love for the game. We’re creating an environment where we have such a strong squad that it’s not just a given, no-one can just walk into a starting seven spot. Madi’s been working really hard to make it back in.”