Saturday, September 8, 2012

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London, England — The Australian women’s national wheelchair basketball team, the Gliders, defeated the USA Thursday in a 40–39 thriller at the North Greenwich Arena.

This semifinal victory advances the Gliders into the final, where they are to meet the winner of the day’s match between the Netherlands and Germany. They are guaranteed at least silver. The Gliders won silver in Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004 and bronze in Beijing in 2008, but have never won the gold. The USA team is to meet the loser of that match to contest the bronze.

The Gliders’ quest for Paralympic gold medals began last week with a narrow 52–50 defeat of Brazil. The Aussies then crushed Great Britain 51–24. Australia had a loss to Canada 50–57, but bounced back to win against the Netherlands, 58–49. This advanced Australia to the quarter final, where the Gliders met and defeated Mexico 62–37.

Team USA started by defeating France 63–24 in its first game. It then lost to Germany, 54–48. It came back and defeated Mexico 67–33. Team USA came from 21 behind to defeat China in extra time, and played Canada and won in the quarter final 67–55.

The first quarter got off to an exciting start. USA had first possession and chalked up the first score. Kylie Gauchi responded quickly with a good shot, leveling the score. Then followed an exciting passage of play in which USA turned the ball over, but Clare Nott lost it on a bad pass. Shelly Chaplin then stole it back but Kylie Gauchi put it out of bounds. Clare Nott stole it back again, only to have Gauichi turn it over again. The USA took a shot at the basket from inside the paint, but missed. They then took a rebound and finally scored. A USA free throw extended their lead to 2–6. Thereafter both teams’ shooting was poor, and the score was only 10–12 at quarter time.

The second quarter started with Merritt scoring twice to give Australia the lead 14–12. A ferocious Australian defence saw USA’s style severely cramped, and they turned the ball over a number of times. They also took too long to move the ball forward. The crowd included the familiar block of Gliders fans in yellow T-shirts. They made their presence felt, chanting “Defence, Gliders, Defence!” whenever USA had the ball. Unfortunately, the Gliders’ poor shooting prevented them from fully capitalising on their superb defence, leaving the score tied at 26–26 at half time.

In the third quarter, an early goal by Kylie Gauchi from outside the paint gave the Gliders the lead. A series of steals gave the Gliders additional shots at goal, most of which missed, but USA had no answer to the Australian defence, with a series of timeouts and turnovers, and their shooting was even poorer. While the Australians relentlessly racked up point after point, taking a 32–26 lead, USA were unable to score at all until the last minute of the quarter. A hurried goal with seconds to go by Katie Hill saw the Gliders leading 38–28 at the last change.

In the fourth quarter, the Australian defence remained taut, but the shooting remained terrible. In the final accounting, Cobi Crispin only made 3 out of 10 shots, and Amber Merritt only 4 out of 16. The Glider’s most accurate shot turned out to be Clare Nott, who made four out of five attempts. Meanwhile, an increasingly desperate USA team pegged the Australians back to 40–39. Three timeouts were taken in the last minute. Fouls saw Merritt sent to the free throw line, but she missed both shots. The game went down to the last second, with USA missing a shot from inside the paint, before the shot clock ran out.

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