Australia has qualified for the 2019 FIBA Under-19 World Cup after defeating New Zealand 82-66 to advance to the semifinals of the FIBA Under-18 Asian Championships in Bengaluru, India.
Rebounding from the disappointment of losing to Korea by a solitary point in their last start, the Gems took control from the outset, leading from start to finish to book a date with Japan, but more importantly secure a berth at the Under-19 World Cup in Thailand next year.
In what proved to be a balanced scoring attack from the Gems, six players scored in double figures, with Isobel Anstey's 13 point and 12 rebound double-double a highlight as she continued to stake her claim as being one of the most dominant players in the event.
Australia led by as many as 30 points in the third term, withstanding one final challenge in the last period from the junior Tall Ferns, before holding on for a much-deserved 16 point victory. In qualifying for the FIBA Under-19 World Cup, the Gems maintain their impressive record of having participated in every one dating back to 1985 when the event was first held.
The Gems opened the game strongly, clearly intent on being more aggressive and with an increased purpose. A 9-0 run to open the game immediately placed New Zealand on the back foot, with Anstey using her size and strength inside, while Jazmin Shelley hit an early triple in the early going. The junior Tall Ferns finally got on the scoreboard through Rochelle Fourie more than 3:26 into the game. Both teams were somewhat sloppy with the ball, yet it was the Australians who would settle better, with Sam Simons coming off the bench with a quick 5 points. New Zealand managed to keep the margin to 8 points at the first break courtesy of a Tayla Dalton steal and score on the fast break.
Miela Goodchild pushed the margin out to 10 early in the second, as the Gems lifted another gear. Defensively, Australia were doing a great job of restricting New Zealand's star duo Charlisse Leger-Walker and Charlotte Whittaker, both whom were struggling to be able to score. Despite their stars being shut down, the junior Tall Ferns were finding other ways to score and would close to within 4 points on a Koha Lewis free throw. Isabel Palmer responded with a big three-pointer, and with the Gems forcing their opponents to turn the ball over, Goodchild and Ula Motuga would power a 11-0 run into halftime to put the Gems up by 16 points and in the box seat.
New Zealand opened the third term with two free throws made, but Anstey scored on a second chance opportunity to get Australia going. The junior Tall Ferns were careless with the ball, with a run of turnovers punished severely, with the margin blowing out to 20. Shelley and Palmer both dialed long distance to have their opponents reeling, and when Palmer joined in with one of her own and Ashlee Hannan scored on a put-back, the Gems were leading by 30. Behind some gritty play from Ella Bradley, New Zealand managed to claw back the margin, but the Gems would go into the final break up by 21.
Anstey and Hannan combined early to keep the big margin intact, yet New Zealand would launch one final charge at the Gems whose scoring dried up. Dalton and Leah Mafua did a great job in helping their team get to within 13 midway through the final term to place some pressure on their trans Tasman rivals. With neither team able to make any further inroad, a triple from Grace Hunter brought the Kiwi's to within 12 points with just over 2 minutes to play. That would be as close as they got, with Motuga and then a Simons triple shutting the door on any miracle comeback, with the Gems eventually prevailing 82-66.
Australia's three-point shooting which had been poor across the first three games improved against New Zealand, with the Gems draining 8-of-19 at a better than 42% clip. What really hurt New Zealand was their carelessness with the ball, turning it over a staggering 33 times from which Australia converted into 36 points. The Gem's pressure was key however, coming away with 18 steals for the game.
Having secured an Under-19 World Cup berth, the Gems focus will turn to their semifinal against Japan - a country whose speed and three-point shooting has troubled the Australians in the past across all levels.
The Gems' game against Japan will be played at 11:15pm AEST on Friday, 2 November 2018, and as has been the case all tournament, the semifinal will be shown LIVE on The Pick and Roll’s Facebook page.
Australia 82 (Anstey 13p, 12r; Goodchild 13p, 4r; Palmer 13p; Shelley 11p, 6a; Simons 10p, 4a, 4s; Hannan 10p, 4r) Korea 66 (Bradley 14p, 12r; Mafua 13p; Dalton 10p, 3r, 3a)
Gems’ FIBA Under 18 Women’s Asian Championship Schedule: