The 2017 World University Games has opened with Australia's Emerging Boomers falling short to Ukraine 76-80 in a closely fought contest.
Dejan Vasiljevic led all scorers with 28 points (10-of-23 FG) including five three-pointers, while Xavier Cooks contributed a double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds with 5 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocked shots. They were the only two Australian's to score in double figures, as the Ukraine made Australia pay at the free throw line, making 23-of-31 at the charity stripe compared to the UniRoo's 13-of-17.
Assembling for the first time as a team earlier this week in the host city of Taipei, the Australian's had just three warm up games to prepare for the event.
Vasiljevic got the Australian's on the scoreboard first after going coast-to-coast on a steal. When Vasiljevic drained a triple less than three minutes into the contest, Australia had opened up an 11-2 lead before the Ukraine halted the run. While Vasiljevic was in the thick of everything offensively, the Ukrainians slowly chipped away at the lead. Kyle Adnam made a strong drive to the basket and was fouled, making the resultant free throws. However their opponents would score at the buzzer to tie up the game at 18-all after the first term.
The Ukrainian's managed to edge ahead at the start of the second period, as both teams locked horns and traded blows. Jack McVeigh drained a long three to keep the Aussies in touch, and Cooks not long after finished off a strong drive and was fouled, but missed the resulting free throw.
Neither team could capitalise on their chances, before Gorjok Gak headed to the line after being fouled on a nice feed by Emmett Naar to make two and tie the game at 25 apiece. Gak not long after would finish a strong foray into the paint to momentarily put their side up by 2. But the Ukrainian's responded again, pushing out to a 4 point lead before Cooks cleaned up on the offensive boards late in the half. Despite the good work, their opponents would drain a trey just before the main break to hold a 38-33 buffer.
The Ukraine opened the second half strongly to pull away by 9. Cooks then found Vasiljevic open on the wing for a triple, and when the latter finished a drive going left, they Aussies had closed it back up to just a 4 point margin. At the other end, Vasiljevic gave away a hard foul that was called unsportsmanlike, but he would again be found by Cooks on the perimeter for a triple as the Aussies kept things tight. Back-to-back buckets at the rim by Vasiljevic saw the Emerging Boomers steal back the lead in what was a highly entertaining period. Adnam would convert a three-point play late, only to see Ukraine respond with a lay-up at the buzzer to hold a 2 point advantage with one period to play.
In a start reminiscent of the third term, Ukraine pulled away to a handy 10 point lead, with the Australian's unable to make the most of their opportunities. It was a nice heads up play and assist by Gak to Cooks that broke the drought. Yet the Aussies would soon find themselves trailing by 14 points with just over 4 minutes to play and with a lot of work to do. A triple by Rhys Vague started a strong run home by the Emerging Boomers, closing to within 5 points with just under 1 minute left. A costly turnover resulted in the game being played out at the free throw line, with the Ukrainian's holding on by 4 points.
While the Ukrainian's ability to get the to free throw line helped them, there was very little else separating either side. Vasiljevic added 3 rebounds and 3 steals to his scoring tally, while Vague added 8 points and 3 assists as all but Tanner Krebs scored.
Australia has little time to bounce back, taking on Lithuania on Monday at 5:00pm AEST. The International University Sports Federation is live streaming games for free and is worth checking at the scheduled start times.
Australia 76: Vasiljevic 28, Cooks 13 Ukraine 80: Petrov 25, Zahreba 13
Emerging Boomers Schedule (all times AEST)
Pool D August 20: Australia lost to Ukraine 76-80 August 21: Australia vs Lithuania at 5:00pm August 23: Australia vs Israel at 5:00pm August 24: Australia vs Russia at 2:30pm August 25: Australia vs Mozambique at 12:00pm August 27: Quarterfinals August 28: Semifinals August 29: Grand Final