Team USA were one of the tournament favourites, waltzing through their pool and quarter final match-up untested. But the Australians have been building with confidence with each passing victory, and following a narrow three-point win in the quarter-finals over Brazil, the prospect of a semi-final upset was on the cards.
The Americans asserted their dominance in the paint early, with the likes of Klah Stokes getting Team USA off to a handy 9-3 lead.
This was extended to a 13-5 lead not long thereafter off the hands of Amber Henson. The Aussies did their best to get to the charity stripe, and another quick basket had the game back within six. But the Americans again responded, getting the lead back out to eight at the half.
The Australian side came out of the break a different line-up, and put together an amazing 8-0 run, with Bontempelli’s early three-point play followed by a Fedjlevic free throw and subsequent three-point bomb to bring the girls within one.
Kaser levelled the scores at 15-15, but it was short lived as the Americans re-ignited. Henson knocked down a long jumper, and the Aussie defence was being tested yet again.
But the girls rose to the challenge. Kaser shut down USA’s attempts on basket leading to a ten second violation before pressuring their opposition and forcing another of what would be 17 turnovers for Team USA on the next possession.
Kaser then turned defense into offense, unloading from down-town, putting the Aussies narrowly in front, 18-17. The lead was short lived, as scores became tied at 20 a piece with only seconds left on the clock.
The Aussies had the chance to seal the win with, Kaser putting up a tough contested shot at the buzzer that didn’t go, sending the game into a two-minute overtime.
The crowd lifted in the extra period and the nerves were evident. Neither team could buy a basket as both teams traded misses. Aussie Bontempelli ended the drought with a signature drive and reverse layup.
After another strong Australian defensive effort and yet another American shot-clock violation, the Americans were on the brink. Bontempelli drew a foul and extended the lead out to 24-20 with 14.2 seconds left.
But Team USA were not done yet. Carter drained a monster three to get it back to a one point game, before Fedjlevic knocked down the final point with 1.3 seconds on the clock to send the Aussies into the final with a 25-23 victory.
Star player Hannah Kaser was short for words after the emphatic victory.
“It’s always been our goal and we wanted to get here, but now that we’re here the feeling is incredible. My heart is going at 100km an hour,” she said.
“We were revved up and we had a few tough games so we knew what it was like to be pushed so I think that was a real advantage for us,” Bontempelli said.
The Australians now face a tough China in the gold medal game, who convincingly disposed of Canada 28-21 in the other semi final.
“It will be different to playing the US, we will have to have a different strategy,” said team captain Olivia Bontempelli. “They’re obviously very quick and good shooters so we’ll have to look out for that.”
The gold medal game between Australia and China tips-off at 6pm AEST. Highlights from the Youth Olympics can be viewed on Foxtel’s dedicated Youth Olympic Channel, Channel 517. Alternatively, games can be viewed On Demand at Channel 4 of the Youth Olympics website.