Golden Girls: Emerging Opals secure Universiade win over Japan

Australia’s Emerging Opals have dominated the opening three-quarters of play to secure a memorable Summer Universiade gold medal with an 85-78 win over a Japanese side which defeated Russia, the only team to defeat Australia in the tournament, in the semi-finals.

Townsville Fire forward Darcee Garbin was yet again unstoppable for the Australians, registering 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists in an exemplary gold medal game performance.

The size of Garbin and Lauren Scherf troubled the Japanese side in the first minute as both were able to get to the basket before Garbin showed her versatility, stepping out to knock down a three which quickly put the Emerging Opals up 7-3. Sydney Uni Flames star Alex Wilson followed up with one of her own before Japan trimmed the lead to 10-7 with a couple of consecutive baskets.

Japanese guard Shiori Yasuma exhibited her speed, driving to the basket for some easy finishes in the opening stages as they remained right on the Australians’ tails. With the Australians’ height advantage seeing Japan almost completely abandon their inside game, the drive to the basket became their main weapon as they sought to draw the Australian defense out to the perimeter at every opportunity. However, Abigail Wehrung proved that she too can drive to the basket, and put the Australians up 21-13 to force Japan into a timeout late in the first quarter. A second three from Wilson briefly extended the Australian margin to 11, but Japan responded in kind with their final possession to see the first quarter end with the Australians up 24-16.

Some early turnovers from the Australians stifled their momentum early in the second quarter, and soon enough the Japanese side had trimmed the lead to two with some accurate shooting, leading Australian coach Chris Lucas to call a timeout after less than two minutes of play. Japan had the chance to take the lead shortly after, but a Scherf block followed by a corner three from Wehrung put paid to any idea of that, and when Wilson exhibited some rarely seen post moves to drop the ball in, the Australian lead was quickly back out to seven.

As the Australians’ ball security improved, it became Japan’s that fell by the wayside with some misguided passes leading to a couple of turnovers. The Japanese coach quickly called a timeout in an effort to get things back on track, and it clearly worked in the short-term as Saki Hayashi knocked down a three to reduce the Australian lead to 31-25 with just under 5 minutes left in the quarter.

Scherf continued to trouble Japan with her height as the quarter progressed, but it was Garbin who continued to be the dominant factor for the Emerging Opals, sneaking in to pick up a rebound and drop in two points to push the Australian lead to 37-27 and take her personal tally to 13 points late in the second quarter.

The Australians were able to extend their lead out to 43-29, but a pair of baskets in the final couple of seconds to the Japanese following a foul with just 0.7 seconds remaining in the half changed the complexion of the game slightly as the first half ended 43-33 in the Emerging Opals’ favour.

Garbin led all scorers with 15 points, but the statistic that stood out most was the Australians’ amazing 28-9 lead in the rebound count, no doubt helped by the fact that eight of the Emerging Opals squad are taller than even the tallest player on the Japanese side.

It took all of 14 seconds of the second half for Scherf to exhibit her dominance in the paint, opening the scoring at the earliest available opportunity. Meanwhile, Garbin continued to create havoc at both ends, picking up a put-back at one end and forcing Japan into a fumble out-of-bounds on a rebound immediately after. With Japan’s offence stuttering, the Australian lead quickly ballooned out to 18 points as Wehrung and Wilson continued their accurate shooting from beyond the arc.

Relying on mid-range jumpers for the most part, Japan started to hit their shots as the quarter progressed, but were simply unable to stop the Australian offence, which kept rolling as Garbin continued to dominate to move to 23 points. As the Japanese side looked as though they might start to eat into the lead with some solid offensive play, the Australians put paid to any thought of that as they finished the quarter on a 7-0 run to take a 73-51 lead and all but assure themselves of the gold medal with 10 minutes to play.

Six points in the opening minute saw Japan open the final quarter on a tear as they looked to somehow drag themselves back into the contest. Fortunately for the Australians, they were able to ride out the storm, but when Japan knocked down their fourth shot of the quarter with the Australians yet to add to their tally over two minutes in, the time had come for a calming timeout.

The timeout had little effect in the short-term as Japan knocked down another three to open the quarter on an 11-0 run to really set the cat among the pigeons with the Australian lead down to 73-62 with six minutes remaining in the contest. Mercifully, the Australians finally added to their total through Wilson and Scherf to push the lead back out to 15 and make things slightly more comfortable with five minutes remaining.

Japan had the chance to trim the lead back to 11 with four minutes to play, but a block from Scherf led to a transition lay-up from Wilson which sent the two points going the other way. At 15 points up with three minutes to play, Japan’s late charge appeared to have fallen short as the Australians composed themselves down the stretch. However, nobody told the Japanese side.

They managed to draw a couple of turnovers from the Australians, and at 83-74 down with 1:20 to play were still right in the hunt despite trailing by 22 with a quarter to play. Somehow, despite an air ball from Garbin which was her only major blemish of the evening, Australia managed to retain an 83-76 lead with 17 seconds to play after a Japanese fast break.

Fittingly, it was Garbin who scored the Australian side’s last points of the tournament, knocking down a pair of free throws to take her personal tally to an astounding 30 points. Japan tacked on a late consolation basket, but a jubilant Australia celebrated as the buzzer sounded, taking gold with an 85-78 win.

Garbin was yet again the undoubted star for Australia, tallying a remarkable stat line of 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists. Scherf also collected a double-double, finishing with 18 points on 64% shooting and also tallying 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals, and 4 blocks. Wilson added 17 points and Wehrung tallied 11 as the pair combined to shoot 6 of 9 from beyond the arc.

Replay | Box Score

Australia 85: Garbin 30, Scherf 18, Wilson 17, Wehrung 11 Chinese Taipei 78: Hayashi 16, Yasuma 14, Fujimoto 10

Emerging Opals Schedule (all times AEST)

Pool D August 21: Australia defeated Lithuania 78-71 August 22: Australia defeated Argentina 69-47 August 23: Australia lost to Russia 58-63 August 25: Quarterfinals – Australia defeated USA 76-69 August 26: Semifinals – Australia defeated Chinese Taipei 79-74 August 28: Grand Final – Australia defeated Japan 85-78