There was the feeling of a coming of age about this victory for Great Britain women’s wheelchair basketball team, crowned champions of the BT Paralympic World Cup for the first time today. They thumped Germany 63-52 in the final.
By Gareth A Davies
It was not the margin, but the manner of victory that was so impressive. A collective self-belief, a tenaciousness in attack that has been lacking for a few years. This was mightily impressive from a team which finished sixth at the last Games in Beijing.
In context, Germany won the silver medal in Beijing. One swallow a summer does not make, but GB’s women have turned the corner with a group of young players with deep-seated belief, individually and collectively.
In front of a packed out crowd at the Manchester Regional Arena, GB were enigmatic in defence and equally unforgiving in attacking the basket with Helen Freeman top scoring with 22 points while Amy Conroy and Laurie Williams were also in double figures as they hit 16 and 11 respectively. Germany were led by Gesche Schunemann, who posted 18.
The GB team out rebounded their German opponents and the depth in their bench, which has been a common theme throughout this tournament, saw them storm to a commanding 15-point lead by half-time, and it was a lead they didn’t surrender for the remainder of the game.
Garry Peel, head coach said: “After last night’s performance this feels great. I said to the girls just be in control of the game. We started attacking the basket and seemed to be happy with that but I told them to keep going.
“We had to get people in and out. Amy [Conway] got in foul trouble straight away, which gave us the opportunity to mix it up and play different people depending on what we needed on the floor. But as I said to them, we only made one mistake in the first half.
“This year we have the Europeans next and also the first ever World Championships for the under 25s; we have six girls in this team who will be there. Our goal is top four in 2012 but that’s still so far away, for now we just have to take it one step at a time.”
Freeman added: “We have a lot of young players in this squad and it’s perfect timing as they are all coming through now. Germany will be back I have no doubt about that as they are always strong. We just came out knowing we could do it today. It’s amazing to win as I’ve never won at this tournament before I don’t think we [GB] have either.”
“Germany are second in the world so now we feel like we can beat anyone. It wasn’t easy though but we just had a self-belief we could win.
“To score yourself is always good but to get the win is the most important thing. Because I was hitting it, it then it started to open up opportunities for other people, which helps us all around.”
Unsurprisingly it was Freeman, who has dominated the paint for Britain this week, who opened the scores with a clean lay-up. And from there GB and Germany alternated baskets with as much speed as they showed up and down the court, but it was the host nation who ended the period with a slender 16-15 lead.
Freeman only had to wait until four minutes into the second quarter to enter double digits, when her basket took her to ten and Britain to a five-point cushion at 22-17. They extended the difference when first Freeman turned provider, setting up Helen Turner and then she added to her own tally.
A pair from the free throw line for the University of Illinois student, a bucket from Louise Sugden and a shot off the glass for Helen Turner saw GB’s 10-point run put them in a commanding position going into half-time, with them asking Germany to respond to a 36-21 lead.
And it took Germany over two minutes of the third quarter to find an answer as GB continued to lock them out. Having picked up an early three fouls in the first half, Conroy returned to the floor and immediately cancelled out the German basket. And once the gates had opened Britain came flooding in, in the form of another six points which saw them stretch a game-high 19-point lead.
A couple of German buckets managed to weather the storm, but where in previous games Freeman had been the driving offensive force this time GB were very much a double-pronged attack, with Conray on target to match Freeman’s 14 points and see her side 46-32 good at the end of the third.
As the final minutes of the final period ticked away, GB held firm. Germany’s frustration was as clear GB’s jubilation.
The GB women could be on the path to the podium in 2012.Tags: Amy Conroy, Gesche Schunemann, Helen Freeman, Laurie Williams, Paralympic World Cup, Paralympics, wheelchair basketball