Champions Japan set up Final repeat after winning a thriller against Australia
AMMAN (Jordan) - Japan and China will go head to head in the title game in Amman as the reigning champions pipped Australia 67-65 to set up a repeat of the 2019 FIBA Women's Asia Cup Final.
Japan were in big trouble at times against the Opals who came close to pulling off an upset with a tremendous performance. However, Japan got it done in crunch time and they will now have the opportunity to try and land five straight titles.
Turning point: It looked like the game might be slipping away from Japan when they trailed Australia 62-56 with around four minutes remaining. However, they turned up the dial defensively and it sparked a pivotal 9-0 run as they took the lead. It was only just enough and indeed had Himawari Akaho not blocked a last-gasp three-point effort from the dangerous Sami Whitcomb, maybe the reigning champions might have fallen.
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Game heroes: Saki Hayashi chose the perfect time to come alive as she dropped 17 points as well as racking up 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals. Akaho was such a leader as always for Japan and as well as her decisive last second intervention on Whitcomb, she also finished with 12 rebounds, 6 rebounds, 3 steals and 3 blocks which summarizes the importance of her defensive effort.
Meanwhile Lauren Scherf starred for Australia with a super double-double of 12 points and 15 boards, with Whitcomb also impressing with some huge buckets.
To the FINAL! 🇯🇵✨#FIBAAsiaCupWomen @JAPANBASKETBALL pic.twitter.com/aRFRCRjB6y— FIBA Women's Asia Cup (@fibasiacupwomen) October 2, 2021
Stats don't lie: The intensity of the Japanese defense contributed towards 23 turnovers from Australia and that led to 23 points off turnovers and that was more than a third Japan's total points.
Bottom line: This was a heroic effort from Australia who despite their lack of overall experience played their hearts out and played so smart too. It was a sign of maybe good things to come beyond this tournament if they do opt to shale things up roster-wise for the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup. They were probably just beaten a little bit on the defensive pressure applied by Japan and now they will try to bounce back and win bronze against Korea.
Japan dodged a bullet - in a big way. They were really struggling and in serious danger of losing, but similar to the way they did against Korea in the Group Phase, they dug out a precious victory. While this was not convincing in any way and they got well beaten on the boards, the one big upside is that you sense they have a big shooting performance in them still - could they have saved this for the Final with China?
They said: "The scoreline reflected the tightness of the game. It was two great teams battling it out. It hurts to lose and we don't want to lose, but being able to get here and do what we did today is a reflection of how far this group has come. It also reflected the toughness of how we play. We held them to their lowest score of the tournament, but we gave up too many turnovers and that hurt us." Australia head coach, Paul Goriss
"They were taller than us and they took a lot of rebounds, but we played tough right until the end and that is why we won the game. I hope we can play good again tomorrow. " Japan guard, Saki Hayashi