The Australian Opals’ dream of taking part in within the gold medal match of the 2022 FIBA Ladies’s World Cup have been crushed by China in essentially the most heartbreaking style conceivable on Friday night time on the Sydney Superdome.
It was a sport becoming of a World Cup semi-final and one which might be remembered for a really very long time by followers internationally — and particularly the just about 12,000 spectators in attendance.
The raucous crowd contained in the stadium created an environment that needed to be seen, and heard, to be believed because the Chinese language followers got here out in droves to assist their workforce, whereas the Australian followers have been simply as passionate.
“I’ve by no means been part of such an incredible environment,” Sara Blicavs stated post-game.
“It was an unbelievable sport and I could not even hear a play name within the first 4 minutes as a result of it was so loud within the stadium. It was electrical — it is one thing that I will all the time keep in mind, being part of this sport.”
In a sport of ebbs and flows, Steph Talbot was on a mission early for the Opals, earlier than Sami Whitcomb took on the scoring load as lots of her teammates struggled to get something going offensively.
Australia’s defence held robust within the first quarter, holding China to only 13 factors, however because the second quarter rolled round, the Opals merely did not have a solution for Han Xu. Standing at 208cm, Xu is a drive not like anybody else on the planet and when she determined to take over within the second quarter, there was little or no Australia might do.
Xu’s dominant 13-point second quarter effort modified the course of the sport and, though Ezi Magbegor did present a spotlight block on Xu, it wasn’t sufficient to sluggish her down as China stored feeding her the ball in harmful positions.
Trailing by six factors on the major break, the Opals wanted a response, and it got here from the youngest participant on the workforce, Magbegor. She got here out firing within the third quarter and with aggressive drives to the bucket and getting in robust positions to put up up smaller opponents within the paint, she led Australia proper again into the competition.
The carry that Bec Allen gave the Opals cannot be underestimated. Clearly beneath an damage cloud and never transferring at 100 per cent after a rib damage sustained in opposition to Serbia earlier within the event, Allen pressured herself to get on courtroom and contributed 14 worthwhile minutes of taking part in time.
“I do know it is onerous as a result of [Allen] in all probability would not really feel as as much as it as she would have,” Blicavs stated. “She’s an unreal participant and chief on courtroom too, so we’ll take any minutes that she will play for us.”
Xu continued to hang-out Australia within the paint, however the work of Marianna Tolo and Talbot was valiant in making certain as many rebounds as potential went the way in which of the Opals, regardless of Xu’s towering presence.
As the sport entered the ultimate quarter, with China main by three factors, 47-44, there was a buzz of anticipation, pleasure and absolute stress within the air because the groups traded buckets and followers traded cheers and boos.
A Cayla George triple with 6:25 left on the clock made it a two-point sport and over the course of the subsequent two minutes, Australia’s defence — led by Magbegor, George and Whitcomb — pressured China into a number of turnovers and when Talbot scored with 4:35 left to play, Australia hit the entrance for the primary time since early within the second quarter.
The ultimate 4 minutes have been absolute mayhem as Kristy Wallace and George made clutch free throws, but it surely wasn’t sufficient as Siyu Wang delivered the knock-out blow with 3.4 seconds left on the clock when she drained a pair of free throws to provide China a two-point lead.
With all of it on the road, Australia got here out of a remaining time-out with an opportunity to tie or take the lead, however a Magbegor driving lay-up try fell agonisingly brief as China booked their ticket to the gold medal match in thrilling style, 61-59.
Regardless of the loss, the need and competitiveness of the Opals could not be questioned — it was a case of a play right here or there that swung the flawed means and China took their likelihood on the dying.
For an Opals workforce that in latest occasions has struggled to match-up in opposition to one of the best groups on the planet and located themselves breaking on the seams in very important moments, this present squad is clearly linked and taking part in for one more.
The consequence did not go Australia’s means, however they stayed collectively as one unit and with simply 15 hours between the ultimate buzzer in opposition to China and tip off in opposition to Canada, there is not any time to dwell for the Opals as they give the impression of being to bounce again and win a bronze medal at a house World Cup.
“I am tremendous pleased with the women for moving into this spot, and we have simply bought to remain constructive,” Blicavs stated. “I simply need to win a medal so unhealthy.”
Australia will tackle Canada within the bronze medal sport at 1pm (AEST), earlier than China and the USA face off within the gold medal sport at 4pm.