Australia’s Gems have finished with World Cup silver after almost claiming victory in regulation before falling to a heartbreaking 74-70 overtime loss to the same USA team that had beaten them by 23 points in pool play.
The Australians were led by 18 points from Jazmin Shelley, whilst Isobel Anstey’s dominant first quarter got the Gems off to a flyer and saw the centre finish with 16 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 blocks. Meanwhile, Alexandra Fowler was named to the All-Star Five following an exemplary tournament.
An electric opening to the game saw the teams combine for 30 points inside the first five minutes as the Gems took an early 18-12 lead, with all of the Australians’ points coming in the paint. Isobel Anstey proved unstoppable around the basket in the early stages to tally 12 points and 5 rebounds in just six minutes, with the Gems doing an outstanding job of breaking the US’s press to open up opportunities. The Americans would find their offensive groove late in the term to tie things up with a pair of quick threes from Rhyne Howard, but Gemma Potter knocked down a trademark corner jumper for Australia’s only points outside the paint to see the Gems lead 23-22 after a quarter.
A spectacular banked hook shot from Agnes Emma-Nnopu pushed Australia’s lead out to three to open the second quarter, but with the American star Alliyah Boston starting to find position close to the basket, the US regained the advantage. A 6-0 Australian run fuelled by Miela Goodchild saw the lead change hands yet again, but the Gems’ advantage was short-lived as the US came up with a short run to force the Gems into a timeout down 39-35 with four minutes remaining in the half. The break worked absolute wonders for the Gems, who held the US scoreless for the entirety of the period following that timeout, and with Shyla Heal burying a late three, the Gems took a 40-39 lead into halftime, shooting 50% from the field in the process.
Defence reigned supreme in the early stages of the third quarter, with the teams scoring just three points apiece in the first three minutes as the offences struggled with looks around the basket. But a Jazmin Shelley three and big plays from Alexandra Fowler at either end put the Gems up 47-43 as the Australian side showed little sign of the third quarter lapse that had doomed them in their pool stage fixture against the Americans. However, the US put together a 7-0 run on the back of a couple of Gems turnovers, before Anstey began to find a little more success, earning her way to the line on a couple of occasions, splitting a pair each time and cutting the US lead to 50-49 heading into the final three minutes of the term. A low-scoring end to the quarter made it tough for either team to open up a significant advantage, and once again it was a late three from Heal ending the term as the teams started the final quarter tied at 53-53.
The Gems came out ferociously on the glass early in the quarter, with one offensive rebound from Emma-Nnopu a microcosm of the team’s work in that facet all tournament, but they couldn’t convert that rebounding into points. Fortunately, though, the US were able to tally just one basket of their own in the first two minutes as the game remained tight as the Americans called an early timeout. It was the Australians who benefitted most in the short-term with four consecutive points out of the break before Anstey came down on an opponent’s foot to tweak her ankle and was forced to leave the game after toughing it out for a minute or so afterwards as the game headed into crunch time.
Emma-Nnopu buried a three and Shelley took her personal tally to 14 with a pair of free throws, but it was the Australian defence and hustle keeping the Gems’ slender advantage intact as Isabelle Bourne came up with a vital block before the US a timeout with the score reading 64-63 in Australia’s favour with 1:49 remaining. Anstey returned with just over a minute remaining, and with the Gems defence keeping the US at bay, the one-point advantage remained heading into the final minute as the Gems took a timeout with the chance to establish a three, or even four-point lead.
The US defence swarmed Fowler in the ensuing play, but the Portland signee was able to find a wide-open Emma-Nnopu to put the Gems up 3, before the Australian defence managed to get a stop and bring the ball up court. But an unsportsmanlike foul on Anstey, whose stray elbow caught a defender as she attempted to protect the ball, saw the Americans go to the line to split a pair and maintain possession. A quick basket on the ensuing play tied the game, but the Australians still had 12 seconds to win the game out of their final timeout. But the US defended outstandingly, and a prayer from Shelley was wide to send the game to overtime with the game tied at 66-66.
Lily Scanlon returned to the lineup for the extra five minutes, but it was Shelley who earned a trip to the line with the opening possession of overtime to hand the Gems the lead. The US tied the game, but with both teams leaving points at the line, the score edged to 68-68 with just under three minutes to play. However, four consecutive points from the US gave them their first two-possession buffer since late in the third quarter. The Gems drew within two and had the chance to tie the game after Scanlon drew a charge, but just weren’t able to secure the game-tying basket as the US took a four-point lead, which they would hold onto to secure a 74-70 overtime victory.
Jazmin Shelley top-scored for the Australians with 18 points, connecting on 7 of 8 free throws as the US defence found it tough to contain her penetration. Isobel Anstey was outstanding to finish with 16 points and 12 rebounds as well as four blocks, whilst Agnes Emma-Nnopu once again made a number of big plays in finishing with 9 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 blocks.
Alexandra Fowler earned an All-Star Five selection following an outstanding tournament. The former Townsville Fire development player dominated the glass all week to finish with an even 10 rebounds per game, including 5.6 offensive boards, alongside 9 points per game. The forward also tallied 11 steals for the week, whilst making numerous hustle plays and time and again showing her basketball IQ on defence.
July 20: Gems lost to USA, 56-79
July 21: Gems defeated Hungary, 81-71
July 23: Gems defeated Korea, 78-59
July 24: Gems defeated Colombia, 62-53
July 26: Gems defeated Mali, 63-51
July 27: Gems defeated Spain, 64-55
July 28: Gems lost to USA, 74-70 (OT)