Japan managed to shoot their way past Australia 83-71 to book a place in the semi-finals of the 2015 World University Games, ending the Emerging Opals' quest for a medal.
Despite a 22-point and 3-assist haul from Tessa Lavey, Japan was able to pull away late in the fourth quarter, thanks to some sizzling three-point shooting that earned them a 12 point win over Australia, and a chance to play for a medal. Sara Blicavs provided 14 points and 3 rebounds; she was one of only two UniRoos to score in double figures.
Lavey and Blicavs were outstanding against Japan.
Australia who had cruised through the group stage encountered a more disciplined and highly skill side in Japan who made the UniRoos pay for their lapses defensively, an area head coach Brendan Joyce takes great pride in instilling in his teams.
“Credit to the Japanese players who punished our defensive breakdowns tonight," shared Joyce after the game.
"Japan played very well and deserved the victory. Any time we defended poorly, the Japanese capitalized on our breakdowns.”
Japan was first to open the scoring account, yet Alice Kunek quickly responded with a three-pointer that got Australia on their way. Tessa Lavey continued the Emerging Opals' hot perimeter shooting with a triple of her own, while Aimee Clydesdale (9 points, 4 assists) got going too. Japan continued to shoot well too, preventing the UniRoos from breaking away. In a fast finish to the quarter, Madeleine Garrick (8 points, 3 rebounds) scored 5 straight points including a big three to ensure Australia held a slender 21-20 advantage.
The second quarter saw each team go blow for blow, with Clydesdale continuing her good shooting and Sara Blicavs providing 5 points for the period. Japan gamely kept pace, answering every big shot Australia threw at them. Thanks to a late Lavey score just before half time, Australia managed to edge back ahead 37-35. Keeping the UniRoos in front was their offensive rebounding, generating second-chance scoring opportunities they would capitalise on.
Like the second period, Japan continued to shadow the Australians closely. Garrick and Lavey continued to find ways to score, yet Japan finally pulled ahead for the first time since the opening basket, with 4:27 left. Stephanie Talbot and Blicavs delivered when it was needed, enabling their side to reclaim the lead. The lead continued to change hands, with both teams making big plays and landing big shots. This included Lavey who connected from long range before drawing a foul in the dying seconds, making both to put her side back ahead 57-56 and set the scene up for a thrilling final term.
With both teams trading the lead, Japan connected on a big three-pointer and a free throw not long after to edge ahead by 5 points - their largest lead of the game. Lavey continued to come up with the big plays, responding with a triple of her own, however Japan again returned the favour. They would go on a 9-0 run that included two from beyond the arc open up a 10-point margin - the largest lead of any team for the game.
With minutes to go, Australia managed one final run at the Japanese. Consecutive baskets from Blicavs and Talbot closed the margin to 6 points, with 2 minutes remaining. Japan missed chances to ice the game right then. Australia however ran out of luck at that point; they came up with a crucial steal, only to see an offensive foul called against them.
Japan did not give the UniRoos another chance. They nailed their fourth three-pointer for the quarter without a miss - their tenth for the game - to go back up by 9 points and effectively end the game.
Japan proved to be Australia's only real challenge at the games; the UniRoos had easily dispatched their group stage opponents by an average winning margin of 52 points. After shooting so well from the perimeter throughout the tournament, their hot shooting deserted them when they needed it most. Japan however impressed, making 7/9 three-pointers in the second half while also winning the rebounding war 41-34.
Joyce acknowledged it was a tough loss but was also quick to look ahead and identify the positives.
“It was a tough loss but an important lesson for the team with 9 players eligible for the 2017 Universiade,” he said.
“The learning we can carry over to the next World Uni Games.”
Before the next edition of the World University Games however, Australia still has unfinished business and can finish as high as 5th place in this event. Hungary is the next challenge who were blown away from the USA in their quarterfinal.
5 July, defeated Uganda 128-31
6 July, defeated Brazil 85-40
7 July, defeated Chinese Taipei 77-62
9 July, Quarter Final: lost to Japan 71-83
11 July, Classification (5-8), 6:30pm AEST vs Hungary
12 July, Final Classifications
Eurosport Australia will be broadcasting all the action from the semi finals onwards via Foxtel in Australia.