Although they qualified for the 2019 Under 19 World Cup by defeating New Zealand in a sudden death playoff the previous evening, there will be no Asian Championship gold medal for the Gems in 2018 after going down 90-77 to Japan in the semifinal.
It was a fast-paced game that saw the Japanese side dictate the tempo for the most part. After putting together a devastating 21-2 run to round out the second quarter that saw the Gems lead at half time, it proved to be their only extended period of dominance as Japan rolled to victory in the second half.
Miela Goodchild (26 points, 7 steals and 5 assists) and Ula Motuga (16 points) were the only Australians to score in double figures, as Japan progressed to the final in Bengaluru, India.
With the Japanese side exhibiting their trademark high intensity defence in the early stages, the Gems found it difficult to get into their offensive rhythm. Yet the Japanese were hardly flying at the other end, jacking up some less than impressive shots from deep to see the teams trade a single basket apiece in the first three minutes. Slowly they changed tack, going to the basket more often and opening up an 8-3 lead. Goodchild found Motuga close to the basket for the Gems’ second field goal to break a stretch of fairly stagnant offence against a Japanese side hellbent on denying passes and hassling ball handlers.
Once Japan found their rhythm from deep late in the quarter, their lead ballooned quickly, and only a late three from Emma Clarke prevented the Gems from going in at the end of the first quarter trailing by double digits. Despite a timeout with two minutes to play in the term, the Australian side remained unable to break down the Japanese defence, falling behind 21-12 after a quarter after Japan knocked down three of their last five three-point attempts after starting zero of four.
A 7-2 Japan run in the space of 70 seconds to open the second quarter forced another Australian timeout, and immediately Ashlee Hannan went to work in the paint for a much-needed close-range basket. Despite star post player Isobel Anstey sitting out for much of the first half with three fouls, working the ball inside started to become a successful means of scoring as Motuga and Clarke helped trim the margin to 11. Agnes Emma-Nnopu grabbed an offensive rebound for a put-back as the Gems chipped away at the lead before Japan called a timeout with a 33-24 advantage.
The timeout did absolutely nothing to stop the Gems’ momentum as Motuga and Emma-Nnopu drained threes to pull within one possession heading into the final two minutes of the first quarter before Japan responded with a couple of baskets. By this point though, the Australian side resembled a runaway freight train, as Goodchild knocked down a short-range jumper late in the term to hand the Gems a 39-38 halftime lead. It capped a brilliant back-end of the second quarter that culminated in a 21-2 run.
A friendly roll for Goodchild on the opening possession of the second half extended the Gems’ lead to 4. Yet Norika Konno responded in kind before setting up Ririka Okuyama as Japan regained the advantage early on. They looked re-energised after a tough second quarter, going on a 13-3 run out of the break before Anstey found her way to the line and split a pair. That barely slowed Japan’s momentum though, as another seven points followed to take the margin back out to 15 before Gems coach Dee Butler called a timeout right on the midway point of the quarter.
Isabel Palmer finished at the basket on the first possession out of the stoppage, but Anstey then picked up her fourth foul, bringing Motuga, who had been solid in the first half, back into the game. Palmer continued to do her best to attack the basket with ferocity when the opportunity arose. However with Japan pushing the pace and the Gems starting to look a bit rattled, the lead crept up towards the 20-point mark as the quarter wound down, with the Australian side trailing 68-51 with a quarter to play.
An interesting five of Goodchild, Palmer, Clark, Emma-Nnopu, and Sam Simons started the fourth quarter, and the gamble paid off as the Gems scored the first nine points of the final term. With the energy coming from the five players on court visible for all to see, this line-up quickly breathed life into the Gems’ charge. But with very little margin for error, a couple of Japanese mini-runs kept the margin above ten points and stymied the Australian comeback attempts.
As the game wound to its conclusion, Japan pulled away to a 20-point advantage. Although the Gems clawed back to within 13 with a late flurry as Goodchild rounded out a 26-point evening with a triple, a Japanese victory had been apparent for some time, with the team in red and white advancing to the gold medal playoff with a 90-77 victory.
Alongside Goodchild’s 26 points, 7 steals, and 5 assists, fellow Queenslander Motuga was the only other Australian in double figures for scoring with 16 points. Palmer added 9 and Jazmin Shelley collected 10 rebounds for the Gems, who were out-rebounded 50-42 by a far smaller Japanese side.
The Gems will now face group stage nemesis Korea in the playoff for bronze after the Koreans fell to China 69-51. While the tournament has been far from a resounding success, Australia will at least have the chance to finish on a positive note and bring home bronze if they can atone for their earlier loss to Korea. That game will be played on Saturday evening at 7:45pm AEST and will be shown LIVE on The Pick and Roll’s Facebook page.
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: defeated New Zealand 82-66 November 2: lost to Japan 90-77 November 3: vs Korea, 7:45pm AEST (Bronze Medal Playoff)