Australia's 'Crocs' have qualified for the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup to be held from 30 June to 8 July in Argentina following a scrappy, hard-fought 9 point win over Korea in the 2018 FIBA Asia U16 Championships in Foshan, China.
Despite trailing for the majority of the game, Australia managed to steal the lead and the win behind a stellar last quarter from Wani Swaka Lo Buluk. The 6'6 forward stepped up to make big plays in the final 5 minutes, coming up with a massive blocked shot in which he finished at the other end with a runner, and draining two huge three-pointers to ensure his country would prevail. He finished with an important 15 points, 3 rebounds and 3 blocked shots.
Korea were the better team throughout the first three periods, having scouted the Australian's well and employing a highly effective zone defence throughout. Despite Australia's dominance in the paint courtesy of Luke Jackson (17 rebounds) and Kobe Williamson (17 rebounds) who combined for a staggering 20 offensive rebounds, the Crocs were not able to capitalise on their second chance opportunities. The Koreans also forced their more highly fancied opponents into 20 turnovers.
The first half in particular was a scrappy affair, with neither team able to assert any real dominance on the scoreboard. While the Crocs were dominating the rebound count thanks to the efforts of Jackson and Williamson, Korea's stifling defence where they doubled inside the paint every time an Australian entered the key. Turnovers were also hurting the Crocs early, while Tamuri Wigness to the bench early in the game with 2 fouls. Korea managed to scrap their way to an 8 point advantage at half time, leaving the Australians with work to do.
Korea maintained their upper hand throughout the third term despite the best efforts of Luke Travers who was starting to have an influence on the game. Just when the Crocs looked to be able to take the ascendancy, Korea would find a way to get to the free throw line to keep their noses in front, leading by 5 at the last change.
Nothing really changed across the first 5 minutes of the last period, that was until Lo Buluk stamped his authority on the contest. He came away with a massive rejection at one end, and then finished at the other. After he connect on his second three-pointer soon after, the Australian's had stolen the lead and had moved away. With the Koreans on the back foot, Wigness took full advantage as he scored in the open court off a steal, and drained a triple of his own soon after to push the Aussies ahead by 11. But Korea would not give up.
In the last 1 minute, Korea stole two consecutive inbound passed to score 7 unanswered points to make things interesting. Yet cool heads prevailed at the charity stripe for the Crocs to register an important 69-60 win and book a ticket to the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup.
While Lo Buluk came up big, the twin towers of Jackson and Williamson were outstanding. Jackson was the most efficient player for the Aussies with a rating of 25 and finishing with a double-double of 12 points, 17 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals. Williamson added 9 points and 17 rebounds, while Jay Rantall overcome his shooting difficulties with 10 points.
Australia will now face New Zealand in the semifinals after their Trans-Tasman rivals accounted for Iran 73-69. Like Australia's quarterfinal win over Korea, The Pick and Roll will be live streaming the semifinal on their Facebook page (details below).
All games are being live streamed by FIBA, with the Australian games simulcast on The Pick and Roll’s Facebook page, or via Spalk TV with Australian commentary provided our own Damian Arsenis and/or the voice of Basketball Queensland’s QBL, Jon Guarna.
Australian Crocs Schedule (all times AEST)
April 7: Semifinal - Australia vs New Zealand | 5:00pm AEST April 8: Medal Games