Wake-up call for Gems
The Junior Tall Ferns fell desperately short of history tonight, coming closer than the scoreboard suggested to upsetting the Australian Gems in Game One of their FIBA Oceania U19 Championship at Porirua.
While the Aussies took a 72-65 victory and a 1-0 lead in the three-game series, they never really had control of the encounter until the final moments, when they closed with a nine-point run and held the Kiwis scoreless for more than three minutes.
Gems forward Casey Samuels led all scorers with 22 points and team-mate Stephanie Talbot recorded a double double of 10 points/11 rebounds.
For New Zealand, point guard Chelseah Savage had four three-pointers among her 16 points, Rhaiah Spooner-Knight scored 14 and forward Penina Davidson put up figures of nine points/15 rebounds/seven blocks.
The Games got off to an ominous start in the women’s match, scoring from the tip-off and then immediately after off a turnover at halfcourt. They were quickly six points ahead, before their counterparts gathered their wits.
Guard Brooke Blair sank a three-pointer to finally get the Junior Tall Ferns on the board and they enjoyed some initial success at getting to the free-throw line, closing back to within a point.
The Kiwis drew level (20-20) early in the second quarter off a three-point play from Spooner-Knight, but a pair of treys from Alex Wilson and Samuels got the Gems clear again. That pair took over the scoring for their team, and another long-distance basket from Samuels stretched the margin in nine points nearing halftime.
But a final flurry had New Zealand behind just 31-35 at the break and three from Savage brought it closer soon after the restart.
Australia were using their size to intrude into the paint, but they still couldn’t shake the pesky JTFs. The difference was just one after Stella Beck drove the lane and missed an “and-one” opportunity to tie it up.
In fact, they took the lead in the final seconds of the period, when Samuels fouled Deena Franklin going to the hoop and then debated the point with the officials, drawing a technical for her troubles. Franklin made all four freebies and then a driving basket for a 51-50 edge, only to see it disappear in the very next possession.
Still, only two points down entering the final straight, the Kiwis had given as good as they’d received and needed only an ounce of self-belief to steal the win. They were ahead again at 60-59, when Blair connected on a pair of free throws with just over six minutes remaining and extended it with a jumper from Aaliyah Ah Kiong.
They were still ahead until 1.96m centre Carly Mijovic scored with 3m 05s on the clock and the Gems only took the decisive lead when Wilson struck from afar with 1m 33s left.
“We contested the whole game,” reflected NZ coach Sean Fuller. “But those final three minutes, we lost our composure and it cost us.”
Australia had their way in the paint, outscoring their rivals 40-16 in that area and 14-2 in second-chance points off 15 offensive rebounds. The Junior Tall Ferns didn’t help their cause with 24 turnovers – twice as many as their opponents – but scrapped the entire way.
Junior Tall Ferns 65 (Rhaiah Spooner-Knight 14, Chelseah Savage 16, Brooke Blair 10, Penina Davidson 9/15 rebounds/seven blocks) Australian Gems 72 FT
HT 31-35 (16-17)
Q3 51-53 (20-18)
FT 65-72 (14-19)