Emus hold off New Zealand to win maiden FIBA U18 Asian crown
Australia were made to work hard by Oceania rivals New Zealand on their way to winning the 2018 FIBA Under-18 Asian Championship 72-63 in Bangkok, Thailand.
Making their tournament debuts after the two most dominant Oceania teams joined the Asian region, as much as Australia threatened to blow out the final, New Zealand continuously fought back to keep alive the contest. Ultimately it was a commanding 19-0 run to end the first quarter that provided the platform from which the Emus would win their first Under-18 Asian crown.
Kody Stattmann paced the Emus offence in providing 17 points as Kyle Bowen continued his excellent tournament by delivering a 13 point and 10 rebound double-double.
New Zealand opened confidently, scoring the first two baskets of the game. Unfazed, the Emus went about their business, with Samson Froling registering his first block of the game, before they opening their scoring account in style with an explosive baseline drive and dunk by Stattmann. Froling looked in a particularly menacing mood as he scored inside before connecting on a three-pointer from the top of the key. Tamuri Wigness was injected into the game with immediate effect, scoring on two drives and throwing an alley-oop pass to Keli Leaupepe who duly converted. Aiden Krause set up Kyle Bowen in the corner for a trey, and when he scored again to finish off the term, the Emus had opened up a 26-11 lead and were in total control.
Bowen threw one up high to Stattmann who threw down the alley-oop dunk to get things moving in the second. New Zealand lifted their defensive intensity, with Australia's turnovers allowed New Zealand to close the gap back to 7 points on a Tomas Higgins triple. When Kruz Perrott-Hunt hit a corner three to beat the shot clock, the margin had been reduced to 6. Both teams tightened up offensively before Bowen came back into the game to score inside. Leaupepe finished off the half with a shot inside, pushing the Emus back ahead by 11 at half time.
Stattmann dialed long distance to open the third term, and when Robertson hit one not long after, the Emus had scored 8 straight points and were threatening to blow out their trans-Tasman rivals. Maxwell Darling who had been making life difficult for the Emus in the paint started to assert himself offensive, ensuring his country kept within reach courtesy of a big dunk. Perrott-Hunt and Flynn Cameron also started making shots, and when the latter hit a triple from the corner late in the period, the New Zealanders had closed to within 5 points and had the Australians on the back foot. A quick transition basket to Bowen on the very next play resulted in the Emus taking a closer than expected 7 point lead into the final change, with New Zealand sensing an upset.
Cameron continued the junior Tall Blacks charge with the opening score of the final term. Yet with Australia finding it tough to score, Robertson managed to hit back by draining a long three on the wing before drawing a charge from Cameron. Leading by just 6, Froling stepped up to hit a wide open three to put some distance between the sides. While New Zealand never gave up, Australia was able to lift their defensive intensity to a new level down the stretch as the lead extended to 12, eventually prevailing by 9 points.
Australia's depth of talent ultimately proved the difference, with the Emus bench outscoring their rivals 21-5. It was an exceptionally good performance from New Zealand who had suffered a 49 point loss to Australia in the group stage. The Emus however were clearly the most talented and deepest team in the tournament, and deserving winners of a debut Under-18 title.
While Stattmann and Bowen led the Aussies in scoring, Froling capped off a brilliant tournament with 12 point and 6 rebounds. For New Zealand, Darling logged a game-high 20 points with 8 rebounds, while Cameron and Perrott-Hunt added 16 points each.
While Australia won gold and New Zealand silver, China accounted for the Philippines in their playoff to come away with bronze.
5 August: Australia defeated Thailand 119-44 6 August: Australia defeated Bahrain 107-42 7 August: Australia defeated New Zealand 111-62 9 August: Quarter-Finals: Australia defeated Japan 88-52 10 August: Semi-Finals: Australia defeated Philippines 77-43 11 August: Gold Medal: Australia defeated New Zealand 72-63