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Basketball women eliminated in shock loss

17 August 2016

BASKETBALL: Australia’s heartbreak in team sports has continued with our women’s basketball team going town 73-71 to Serbia in a nail-biter that went down to the last second of play.

The Australian team led by nine early in the third quarter but the persistent Serbians fought back, with the Australians holding a one-point lead at the last break.

The match ended with a frantic last chance for the Aussies to push the game into extra-time after the lead changed six times in the final eight and a half minutes.                              

After Serbia top points-scorer (with 24) Ana Dabovic landed one of two free-throws from a foul by Rachel Jarry, the match was still open with 12 seconds remaining.

Point guard Leilani Mitchell found Marianna Tolo under the basket but, in the final two seconds, she missed the tough shot that would have levelled the scores at 73-all.

Only moments earlier it appeared as though Liz Cambage was fouled and should have been given two free shots to give her team a one-point lead but there was no action taken by the match officials.

The loss would have been felt most by captain Penny Taylor who was in Australian colours for the last time. She missed the London 2012 Games because of injury and had been inspirational while the team was unbeaten in their four lead-up games.

“That’s not the way we wanted it to go," a devastated Taylor said. "We knew they were a good team and we knew that it was going to be a hard game; we had no disillusions about that but we definitely didn’t get on top of them.

“Attacking on the dribble was hard for us to contain and then we were throwing the ball away on top of that. We didn’t get as many good shots as we wanted.

“We struggled just taking care of the ball then getting thrust off. They were aggressive in defence, long and in the lanes and I think we struggled with that tonight.

“It’s pretty upsetting. We expect more from ourselves and everyone expects more from us and it hurts to let people down, let ourselves down and all the work that’s gone into it. It’s very disappointing.”

The Australians struggled to gain regular momentum against the tenacious Serbians. They gave up too much easy possession (26 turnovers) and landed only 23 of their 44 two-point shots.

Australia didn’t start as impressively as they would have liked, missing some early opportunities and having a couple of stolen possessions. However, they led until the sixth minute when Serbia gained some momentum.

The score was 20-all at the first break with Liz Cambage picking up eight points. The Aussies had converted only 50 per cent of their 14 chances (and none from three-point range) while Serbia landed only 35 per cent of their 17 shots.

Jarry got herself into the game in the second quarter and found her range with three three-pointers, and three assists, to help open up a two-point lead of 37-35 at the halfway mark, with Cambage finding space under the basket and contributing 14 of those points (and gaining eight rebounds).

Yet the Aussies were converting just 44 per cent of their basket attempts while Serbia’s experienced Dabovic had contributed 15 of her team’s points (five from free-throws) and was proving a threat, with the Serbians also converting all 10 of their first-half free-throws.

Mitchell picked up a two three-pointers and runaway basket in the first half of the third quarter to give the Aussies their biggest break at 48-39 while Cambage was off being rested. However, Serbia picked up five of the next six scoring plays to strike back to lead 51-50.

The Australians led 52-51 at three-quarter time and Australian coach Brendan Joyce called Cambage back into the action after she had been rested for almost all of the third quarter.

Serbia went 65-63 ahead but Cambage, despite some physical treatment from the Serbian defence which saw her tumble to the court over fallen bodies, gave the Aussie women an edge although she accumulated four fouls with three and a half minutes remaining and was given another break.

Serbia seemed to be handling the mounting pressure better in the final five minutes. Australia led 67-66 with two minutes remaining but the Serbians’ aggressive defence made it hard for the Australian to retain the upper hand. They never led again, despite Cambage landing all three shots when she received the ball under the ring.

Cambage scored 29 for the Aussies and picked up 11 rebounds, while Jarry scored 14 (including three three-pointers) and Mitchell and Erin Phillips contributed 10 each.

“I felt we could have been up eight or ten at half-time,” coach Brendan Joyce said.

“We talked about being ball-strong when we refer to turnovers and getting shots. On the last possession we didn’t execute what we were supposed to do.

“We did panic a little bit on that last possession we didn’t have the floor spread and again it put Leilani (Mitchell) in a difficult position.”

On the final play that could have kept the Aussies alive at these Games, Joyce commented: “It’s all good to say plan for it when you’re in that situation but when it actually happens, how you function is important.

“A couple of times we got out to a six-point lead and we just couldn’t lock down. Defensively we locked down but we gave away some offensive rebounds and loose balls on the floor which gave them a sniff.

“There’s a lot of little things that can happen when you lose by two.

“It’s disappointing. I feel for Penny Taylor; it’s her last Olympics. We were confident that we’d get through this and we’d be in the medal rounds but we’ve been knocked out and it is really difficult to swallow.”

While devastated at the early exit, Taylor believes the Australian team has a bright future.

“For a kid growing up in basketball this is the goal [to play at the Olympic Games],” she said.

“This is the ultimate to represent your country. To be named one of the best basketballers in your country is huge.

“That was always my goal. It hurts a little to not have done that so well today. But I think the future is bright for this team.

“Liz (Cambage) is 24, we have so many young players who are going to be there for a long time. I’m excited about watching them.”

Neil Cadigan

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