CANBERRA (Exhibition game) - The Australian Under 21 Women’s basketball team, the Sapphires, were defeated by the Japanese Senior National Women’s team at the AIS in Canberra last night, 72-52.
Trailing by two points at three quarter time, the Sapphires were blitzed 24-6 in the final term.
The Sapphires are using the four game series to prepare for the 2007 FIBA World Championships for Under 21 women that will take place in Moscow in June, and are currently in the midst of their final selection camp.
Victorian Jenna O’Hea scored a game high 21 points to lead the Sapphires while Chantella Perera and Elyse Penaluna each contributed 6 points.
Ryoko Utsumi top scored with 19 points to lead the visitors, while Yuko Oga and Ai Mitani contributed 12 points and 11 points respectively.
The Japanese team has been in Australia for five days and recently split a two game series against the Australian under 19 women’s team, the Gems.
The Sapphires had limited time to prepare for the match, with the bulk of the team flying in from across the globe in the last few days.
The honours were shared in a low scoring first quarter, with the Sapphires holding a narrow 11-9 lead at the first break.
Japanese point guard Yuko Oga, Captain Noriko Sakakibara and shooting guard Ryoko Utsumi came alive in the second quarter, propelling Japan to a 35-26 half time lead.
O’Hea continued her stellar defencejobs WNBL form to score 11 of the Sapphires’ 15 points for the quarter and combined with Perera to lead the Sapphires to a 20-13 third quarter tally, reducing Japan’s lead to just two points at three quarter time, 48-46.
Japan started the final term full of running and while floor general Oga sat out the entire fourth quarter her compatriots Utsumi and Asami Yoshida orchestrated a blazing 24-6 finish to seal the win.
The final three games will be played at the AIS in Canberra, starting tonight at 7pm AEST, followed by Saturday at 5pm AEST and Sunday at 10:30am AEST.
Japan 72 - Ryoko Utsumi 19, Yuko Oga 12, Ai Mitani 11
Australian Sapphires 52 – J O’Hea 21, C Perera 6, E Penaluna 6