Lee Michelson, Helen Wheelock contributer
To the disappointment of a crowd of 7,000 highly partisan fans at Fenerbahçe Arena in Istanbul, Australia roared out to a 17-0 lead over the host country Turkey and never looked back, finishing with a 74-44 win to take the bronze medal at the 2014 FIBA World Basketball Championship for Women on Sunday.
“I’m very proud of the way this team played together and fought,” said Australian guard Penny Taylor (Phoenix Mercury). “They put their bodies on the line and gave it everything they got.”
Taylor was particularly impressed with the 25-year-old post, Marianne Tolo. “She just stepped up unbelievably. I’ve known her over the years, she’s a great player, but it’s hard sometimes to measure her against the best in the world. This tournament, we can say she’s really one of the best post players in the world right now. Had we had Lauren (Jackson) or Liz (Cambage), she may not have had that opportunity. I’m so proud that she took it with both hands.”
Tolo led Australia in the medal game with 21 points on phenomenal 73-percent (8-11) field-goal shooting. She also added six rebounds, an assist and a steal.
Taylor also finished in double figure with 13 points, plus nine assists, five boards and two steals, while Cayla Francis chipped in 11 points, five boards and three assists.
Nevriye Yilmaz, who posted 13 points and four rebounds, was the only Turkish player to finish in double figures. Lara Sanders (formerly, LaToya Pringle) had performed well for Turkey earlier in the tournament, but struggled on this night, posted just eight oints on 2-6 from the field. Sanders did lead the team in rebounding, however, with eight boards, something Turkey could have used a lot more of, as they were out-rebounded by the Opals, 51-23 overall, and 19-8 on the offensive glass, an advantage Australia turned into 20 second-chance points.
The Australian defense also forced the Turks into 17 turnovers, resulting in 23 points for Oz; meanwhile, Australia coughed the ball up just nine times, though Turkey made the most of those errors, turning them into 13 points.
It was obvious that the Turkish team was disappointed and emotionally exhausted after their tournament run, but there was pride, too. “I’d like to congratulate the Australians on their win tonight,” said Turkish coach Ceyhun Yildizoglu. “They fought really hard to get this win, and it was a particularly powerful performance coming off their loss to the United States last night. For us it was just the opposite. We weren’t able to bounce back from the game last night (Turkey’s loss to Spain).”
“To participate in a tournament like this was a great thing,” added Turkish forward Şaziye İvegin. “We did not achieve the goals that we set out, but nonetheless it was a great achievement. Against a team like Australia, we came out and we were down 17 points and they’re a very tough team to come back against in that kind of situation. We tried to do our very best to represent our country and I congratulate my teammates on giving everything they have. I also want to thank our fans for the support they provided us. It was truly fantastic support and I hope they’re pleased with the basketball that they saw. We’re a team that has had increasing success year after year and hopefully, in the years to come at World Championships and Olympics we will continue to have increasing levels of success.
Turkey’s performance in this tournament was a major accomplishment for a team that had never before made it as far as the semifinals in the Women’s World Basketball Championship. Likewise, though Australia is no stranger to the medal stand at either the World Championship or the Olympics, the bronze-medal finish marked a significant improvement from the Opals’ fate at the 2010 World Championship, when Australia was upset by the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals and forced to settle out of the money in fifth place.
In Sunday’s classification games, Canada topped China, 61-53, to finish in fifth place and France beat Serbia, 88-74, for seventh place.
Of Note In a special ceremony following the bronze-medal game against Australia, veteran Turkish point guard Esmeral Tunçluer was honored for her 14 years of service to the Turkish National Team. Tunçluer has appeared in 274 games for Turkey, including tonight’s, scoring 2,005 points, and has been a cornerstone in the steady progress Turkish women’s basketball has made in recent years. She helped lead Turkey to a fifth-place finish at the 2012 Olympic Games, the first-ever women’s basketball Olympic appearance for Turkey, as well as to the bronze medal at 2013’s Eurobasket Women.
In addition, she has been floor general for several different Turkish club teams, guiding her clubs to 10 separate Turkish Women’s Basketball League Championships, five Turkish Cups, and six President’s Cups between 2001 and 2013.
The veteran guard will retire followig the 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women, according to a statement released by the Turkish Basketball Federation, “but she has plenty left to contribute on and off the court.”
“Since the first day she dedicated herself to basketball, she has been a very special player with her personality, with her approach to being a teammate , and being a team player,” said Senior Women’s National Team head coach Ceyhun Yildizoglu. “Not just on the court, but off the court, as a teammate, as a friend, with her dependability, she’s a very, very valuable player.”
Tunçluer, who was born in the Netherlands, came to Turkey when she was seven years old with her older sister to continue her education. Five years later, she visisted the Beskitas athletic facilities and soon fell in love with the game of basketball.
“When I went with my friends to play at the Besiktas facilities, the coaches there saw me and with their offer I started basketball,” Tunçlluer recalled. “That was a turning point in my life. From that day until now it’s been exactly 22 years.”
Tunçluer, who can play both the 1 and the 2 positions, said that the success both she and the Turkish National Team have enjoyed are no overnight phenomena, but rather the product of more than a decade of hard work and investment in the process. She looks forward to starting a family after hanging up her hightops.
“I’d really want it,” Tunçluer said when asked if she would want her child to become a basketball player. “Of course, I’d really want that.”