China tops host Australia 61-59 to reach gold-medal game

(AP Photo/Mark Baker)

By DOUG FEINBERG

AP Basketball Writer

SYDNEY (AP) The Chinese team lifted coach Zheng Wei up, tossing her in the air after pulling off a thrilling victory over Australia.

China is now guaranteed its first medal in the women's World Cup since 1994 after the 61-59 win over the Opals on Friday night in the semifinals.

Han Xu had 19 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks to lead China (6-1), which will face the U.S. in the gold-medal game Saturday. The two teams played earlier in the tournament and China gave the Americans their closest game, losing by only 14 points.

"I'm proud of my team," said Han, who was serenaded with MVP chants after the win.

With the game tied at 59 with 46 seconds left, Cayla George missed a shot from the top of the key as the shot clock ran out, giving the ball back to China setting up the chance.

After China worked the clock down, Huang Sijing was fouled and calmly sank both free throws.

Australia had one last opportunity, but Ezi Magbegor's layup was short at the buzzer.

There was an electric atmosphere for the entire game as the crowd of nearly 12,000 fans was evenly split cheering on both teams. Every basket drew a roar from one of the fan bases.

"The crowd was amazing," said Sami Whitcomb, who led Australia with 15 points. "It think it lifted us the whole game. Even with the loss, we have a goal still in mind (of winning a medal)."

The game was back and forth with neither team getting more than an eight-point advantage. The fourth quarter kept the crowd entertained.

Han, China's 6-foot-10 center, was dominant on both ends of the court. She helped stake China to a 36-30 lead at the break with 13 points. Australia (5-2) hung around though and took the lead with on Steph Talbot's layup with 4:41 left. The game went back and forth after that until the last few seconds.

China was missing its star guard Li Meng, who sat out the game with what Chinese media reported as having a fever due to body fatigue.

UP NEXT:

China: Plays against U.S. for a gold medal on Saturday.

Australia: Plays against Canada for a bronze medal on Saturday.

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Updated September 30, 2022