Australia’s Emerging Opals have started their Summer Universiade campaign in the best way possible, following up the Emerging Boomers’ victory over Lithuania with one of their own, emerging 78-71 victors. Lauren Scherf led five players in double figures with 19 points, and also racked up 11 rebounds and an impressive seven blocks.
The Australians jumped out to an early lead, with Aimie Clydesdale responsible for the bulk of the early scoring load. The Adelaide Lightning point guard notched five points in the opening couple of minutes to deliver a 7-2 lead for the Emerging Opals. However, the three-point shooting of Ieva Kazlauskaite proved to be a weapon for Lithuania as they hit back before moving out to a 16-9 lead, with Fortuna Klaipeda forward Roberta Mizgeryte also causing problems for the Australians.
Mercifully, the Australians were able to stop the rot and go on a run of their own. Darcee Garbin (ten points and four assists) kicked things off with an assist on Abigail Wehrung’s (eleven points) basket, before knocking down two shots of her own to trim the margin to a solitary point. Keely Froling tied the score soon after by splitting a pair at the line, and the score remained 16-16 as time expired in the first quarter.
After blocking four shots in the opening term, new UC Capitals signing Lauren Scherf showcased her offensive talents early in the second quarter. She extended her personal tally to seven points with an and-one to open the period, but points were hard to come by in the opening stages of the term. However, once Lithuania tied the game at 19-19 through Greta Tamasauskaite, the Emerging Opals then went on a bit of a roll. Scherf continued to dominate around the basket, drawing fouls almost at will, whilst an improvement in shooting as the quarter continued pushed the Australians out to a 30-21 lead with five minutes remaining in the first half.
With their team in foul trouble, Lithuania turned to Martyna Petrenaite off the bench, who scored five points in the space of 40 seconds just as things threatened to turn ugly for the team from the Baltic coast. Australian coach Chris Lucas quickly opted for a timeout with his team leading 32-28, and his Lithuanian counterpart then did exactly the same after Wehrung’s three just over a minute later. The half ended with a couple of things that had been seen a lot in the opening twenty minutes: baskets to Scherf and Garbin, with the pair reaching halftime on 13 and 10 points respectively to lead Australia to a 42-32 halftime margin after Kristy Wallace’s buzzer-beating three.
A slightly scrappy start to the second half saw the Australians turn the ball over a couple of times early before settling back into their groove. Scherf completed a double-double just two minutes into the second half with her tenth rebound, and when Alex Wilson knocked down a shot courtesy of an assist from Wallace to take the score to 48-34, the Lithuanian coach opted for a timeout early in the third quarter.
The stoppage had a mild effect, perhaps stifling the Australians’ momentum, but it took a while for the Lithuanians to make any inroads into the gap. But with the Emerging Opals unable to find any points for over two minutes, the margin was eventually reduced to 50-43 before Scherf took her own tally to 17 and snapped Lithuania’s run of scoring with a two-point basket. That proved to be the catalyst for Australia to re-establish their double-digit margin and storm home in the back end of the third quarter. Clydesdale moved into double figures with a couple of baskets, joining Garbin and Scherf, whilst Alex Sharp picked up an assist and an and-one in her first 90 seconds of court time to help her team to a 66-53 lead with a quarter to play.
With neither team able to add to their total in the opening minutes of the final term, Lithuania’s chances of mounting a comeback slipped away by the second. Turnovers and ineffective shooting ruled the first three minutes, before Lithuania finally tallied the first basket of the final quarter. Any thoughts they may have had of kick-starting a charge with that basket were quickly killed off by a Wilson jumper from beyond the arc, and when the Sydney Uni Flames star knocked down her second in quick succession, the Australian lead was 72-55 with six minutes to play and the contest was all but in the books.
With the teams combining for another long scoring drought, the final term appeared destined to be low-scoring, until Wilson and Wehrung each knocked down shots to be the fourth and fifth Australians to reach double figures for the night. A quick pair of threes for Lithuania trimmed the Emerging Opals’ lead to 77-65 with two minutes to play, and with the Australian offence stuttering in the closing minutes, the margin sat at 78-71 when Chris Lucas took a timeout with 44 seconds to play.
The Australians ran the clock out perfectly, with Vanessa Panousis’ shot coming right as the shot clock expired. Sharp grabbed the offensive rebound, and with Lithuania not yet in the bonus, fouling to stop the clock at seven points down with 20 seconds to play would have been futile as Australia emerged 78-71 winners, with the final scoreline perhaps not reflective of Australia’s dominance throughout large portions of the contest.
Five players finished in double figures for Australia, with Scherf’s 19 point, 11 rebound, 7 block effort the outstanding performance of the evening. Garbin's class shone through in providing 14 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists, while Clydesdale had 12 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals.
Australia will next tackle Argentina on Tueday, 22 August from 7:30pm. The game may be live streamed by The International University Sports Federation for free and is worth checking at the scheduled start times.
Australia 78: Scherf 19, Garbin 14, Clydesdale 12, Wilson 11, Wehrung 11 Lithuania 71: Mizgeryte 11
Emerging Opals Schedule (all times AEST)
Pool D August 21: Australia defeated Lithuania 78-71 August 22: Australia vs Argentina at 7:30pm August 23: Australia vs Russia at 2:30pm August 25: Quarterfinals August 26: Semifinals August 28: Grand Final