In front of a fanatical opposition home crowd, Australia's Emerging Opals have booked a place in the gold medal game at the 2017 World University Games after overcoming hosts Chinese Taipei 79-74 in an enthralling semifinal encounter.
Center Lauren Scherf was outstanding, delivering a massive game-high performance of 21 points (10-of-18 FG), 17 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals in a dominant display. Abi Wehrung and Darcee Garbin also delivered the big shots when they were needed. Wehrung added 19 points on a scintillating 7-of-7 shooting, while Garbin posted 18 points, 13 rebounds and 3 assists.
In front of a near-capacity 20,000 strong Chinese Taipei home crowd, it was the Australian's who registered the first points, with Garbin feeding Wehrung for the score. The home side would ride the wave of emotion from the crowd to score the next 8 points before Wehrung again bobbed up to drain a much-needed three-pointer. Scherf converted a three-point play and the scores were locked at 8-all. Both teams would trade the lead, with Garbin finishing the quarter with 4 straight points to ensure nothing separated the teams at the first break (16-all).
Scherf continued to assert an influence on the contest to open the second, with Garbin's successful and-one putting the Australian's in front. Garbin and Kristy Wallace were starting to wrestle control. Yet everything Australia threw at Chinese Taipei, the home side answered. While Wallace and Garbin stepped up again late in the half with timely buckets, Chinese Taipei went into the main break leading 38-34 after a buzzer-beater by Hsiu Cheng I.
Wehrung made immediate inroads into the lead by dialing long distance. However the home side would counter by opening up a 6 point lead. Scherf stepped up again, and along with great play from Wallace, Wilson and Garbin, the Emerging Opals hauled their opponents in to steal back the lead. In fact the Uniroos would keep going, establishing a 7 point margin on the back of another Garbin bucket. Chinese Taipei would close the period strongly, scoring 5 unanswered points, but Australia still led by 1 heading into the final quarter (54-53).
Like she did in the first and the third, Wehrung opened the scoring to edge her country ahead by 3. Scherf remained dominant in the paint, keeping her side ahead with a nice fade-away just inside the free throw line. Wehrung followed suit with a nice scoop to the hoop. However a banked three-pointer by Yen Yu Chen leveled the scores at 58 apiece as the crowd tried to spur their side on.
Wallace was doing a great job of running the show, managing to draw fouls and get to the line. Scherf scored her 21st points on a Garbin assist and Australia were up by 4. Yet the home side kept coming. They would edge ahead by one until Wallace found Garbin open in the corner for three and a 2 point Emerging Opals lead. The last-minute or so belonged to Wehrung.
While Chinese Taipei leveled again, Wehrung then hit a three of her own to go back ahead as both sides traded baskets. A tough Wilson jumper from the elbow saw the home side call timeout with Australia leading 75-72 and with 1:49 left. Wehrung would hit again, and then not long after a good defensive stop, would be fouled on a strong drive. She calmly made both, as Australia held off every challenge to book a berth in the gold medal game, prevailing 79-74.
In what was a closely fought contest, Australia's 48-34 rebounding dominance led by Scherf and Garbin's 30 combined, rebounds, ultimately proved the difference.
The big outputs by Scherf, Wehrung and Garbin were well supported by Wallace and Wilson who were also outstanding. Wallace compiled 10 points, 7 rebounds and 3 steals, with Wilson providing 9 points, 3 rebounds and 6 assists.
Australia now advance to the gold medal game on Monday, 28 August at 10:00pm AEST against Japan who easily dispatched Russia by 21 points in their semifinal. The final will be live streamed by FISU.
Australia 79: Scherf 21, Wehrung 19, Garbin 18, Wallace 10 Chinese Taipei 74: Huang 13, Cheng I 13, Wang 12
Emerging Opals Schedule (all times AEST)
Pool D August 21: Australia defeated Lithuania 78-71 August 22: Australia defeated Argentina 69-47 August 23: Australia lost to Russia 58-63 August 25: Quarterfinals – Australia defeated USA 76-69 August 26: Semifinals – Australia defeated Chinese Taipei 79-74 August 28: Grand Final - Australia vs Japan or Russia at 10:00pm (Live Stream)