A late charge from the Gems couldn’t undo a sub-par first three-quarters as Korea celebrated an upset 63-62 victory at the FIBA Under 18 Asian Championship. The shock loss has forced the Australians into a sudden-death playoff with New Zealand in their last chance to qualify for the 2019 Under 19 World Cup through earning a semi-final berth in India.
Isobel Anstey finished with 19 points and 15 rebounds to once again dominate the interior for the world number 9 ranked Gems in what proved to be a sub-standard performance by their own lofty standards.
Swarming defence from the Korean side in the early stages had the Gems struggling to score in the opening minutes, with the Australians’ first points coming almost three minutes in courtesy of a baseline pull-up jumper from Miela Goodchild. However, Korea’s only points of the first four minutes came at the free throw line in a low-scoring opening.
Although the Gems came in as favourites, it was the world number 16 ranked Koreans who found their rhythm first in the ensuing minutes, taking an 8-3 lead before Isabel Palmer finally added a second field goal for Australia from the corner to trim the margin to two. The game remained tight throughout the first quarter, chiefly due to the Gems turning the ball over a colossal seven times. With stifling the defence, the Koreans restricted the Australians to just 2 of 10 shooting from the field as Korea took a 13-10 lead into the second quarter despite shooting a dismal 23.5% of their own after attempting seven more field goals than the Gems.
The offensive woes continued for both sides in the early stages of the second quarter, with a solitary Korean three-pointer the only points until Anstey forced her way to the line, where she rebounded her own missed free throw to find Sam Simons open under the basket. Seemingly bereft of ideas at times, the Gems were unable to close the gap completely - at one point the Korean lead edged out to 9 as Australia struggled to find direction with Anstey and Jazmin Shelley off the court with three fouls apiece.
With the shooting struggles of the Indonesia game returning to haunt them, coupled with the Korean side showing vastly more energy and composure, the Gems were lucky to not be down by double-digits at halftime. A late trip to the line for Sohee Lee failed to produce any points, seeing the halftime score reading 27-18 in Korea’s favour.
Both teams shot just 24% from the field, but a turnover count of 13-3 crucified Australia’s offensive opportunities, with the Koreans also out-shooting the Gems 38% to 8% from beyond the arc.
While the margin may not have hit double-digits in the first half, a Korean three-pointer to open the second half did exactly that. The Australians certainly looked more organised on offence with Shelley back on court, but defence remained an issue as Korea continued to knock down shots and maintain their lead. The insertion of Agnes Emma-Nnopu just shy of midway into the term provided some spark, but execution at both ends remained an issue throughout the quarter.
Korea moved out to a 48-33 lead after a basket from beyond NBA range with just over 2 minutes to play. Mercifully, the Australians ended the third quarter on a 6-0 run as the energy that had been lacking for much of the game suddenly appeared, cutting the margin to 48-39 with a quarter to play. Anstey in particular began to impose herself a lot more against a seemingly tiring Korean side, finishing the term sitting on 12 points and 8 rebounds. Yet the Gems would still require a fast finish to come over the top in the final term if they wished to secure victory.
Leaving Korean shooters with space continued to be a thorn in the side for the Gems though, and it came to pass that the first basket of the quarter was yet another Korean three - their 9th of the contest. Shelley responded in kind, but stopping Korea on defence continued to be problematic as the margin hovered around nine points. An early timeout from the Korean coach proved to be more of a boon for the Gems, as they immediately forced a turnover after the stoppage before Anstey earned her way to the line on her first possession since sitting for nearly three minutes with four fouls, converting a pair of free throws. It was a short-lived turn of success though. A mini-run from Korea saw their lead grow to 13 points with 5 minutes to play and put the Australians under serious pressure, which only grew when Anstey failed to convert a pair of free throws.
However two baskets in the space of a minute cut the Korean lead to 61-54, with the Korean coach taking another timeout with 3 minutes to play. Emma-Nnopu then forced a turnover shortly after and suddenly the Gems were right back in the contest as Anstey muscled her way in to cut the margin to five. As things went pear-shaped for Korea on offence with some turnovers and missed easy lay-ups, Shelley tied things up at 61-all with a minute to play. Anstey was fouled on a defensive rebound on Korea’s next possession, and with the Gems in the bonus, went to the line. The centre split the pair at the line, leaving Korea trailing by 1 in possession with 23 seconds remaining. Slick passing and perhaps a missed defensive rotation from the Gems found a player open at the baseline, and although the lay-up was an option, the short jumper fell to swing the game Korea’s way with 4 seconds to play.
That left the Gems with one play to win it, with Dee Butler calling timeout to advance the ball and draw up the potential game-winning play. Goodchild found Shelley with the inbound pass, who managed to find Anstey in the block. But her tough, off-balance shot cannoned into the near side of the rim, and with the ball bouncing away from the rebounding contest, the Korean side went into raptures as the final buzzer sounded.
Anstey was outstanding in the final quarter to not commit a fifth foul whilst dominating in the paint to finish with 19 points and 15 rebounds. Emma-Nnopu’s 10 points and 6 rebounds tell only half the story of a player who starred on defence for her entire 24 minutes on court. Once again, three-point shooting woes hindered the Gems, who shot just 3 of 24 from deep - the exact same number they had posted against Indonesia. A turnover count of 20-13 in Korea’s favour only served to further stifle the Australian offence.
The loss means the Gems now face a do-or-die clash with New Zealand for a spot in the semi-finals, which doubles as the final chance to qualify for a place in next year’s Under 19 World Cup. The Tall Ferns will be no pushover either, having run China extremely close in a 67-58 loss, with their star pairing of Charlotte Whittaker and Charlisse Leger-Walker looking dangerous.
That game will be shown LIVE on The Pick and Roll’s Facebook page.
Australia 62 (Anstey 19p, 15r; Emma-Nnopu 10p, 6r; Goodchild 9p, 3r, 3a) Korea 63 (Sohee Lee 21p, 4r, 7a; Jihyun Park 18p, 6r, 5a; Leeseul Shin 10p, 4a)
Gems’ FIBA Under 18 Women’s Asian Championship Schedule:
October 28: defeated Indonesia 96-28 October 29: defeated Chinese Taipei 106-66 October 30: lost to Korea 63-62 November 1: vs New Zealand (Semi-Final Qualifier) November 2: Semi-Finals November 3: Final