By Joel Fitzpatrick, Port Moresby 2015 Games News Service
PORT MORESBY, July 17 – Papua New Guinea have booked a women’s gold medal game with Pacific netball powerhouses Fiji on Saturday, the final day of the Port Moresby 2015 Pacific Games.
PNG disposed of a gallant Cook Islands team in the semifinal 50-48 on Friday, taking the win despite a late comeback from Cook Islands that almost spoiled the host’s party.
PNG goal attack and captain Lua Rikis said that her team needed to learn not to let its guard down like they did against Cook Islands – particularly with a big challenge against Fiji next up.
“We got too comfortable with the scoreline and dropped our game,” she said following the win. “But when we picked it up it was enough to keep us on top at the end.”
“It was physical today, but that’s what we expected. I think we just let them hit us when we are supposed to be going hard for the ball.”
After getting off to a slow start and falling behind 6-1 midway through the first quarter, PNG came roaring back to finish the quarter with a five point lead.
PNG managed to carry the lead through the next two quarters, with Cook Islands never cutting the deficit to less than three, and by the end of the third it looked like PNG had sealed the game – taking a nine point lead into the final break.
But Cook Islands turned up their defensive intensity in the final quarter, showing their fortitude in the big moment.
They cut PNG’s lead with two runs – one of seven unanswered goals and another of six – but with the game on the line, Rikis took the ball and scored the final goal to seal the game.
PNG’s giant goal shooter Tiata Baldwin shot 25 of 34 on the game while Rikis was near flawless, shooting 89 percent on her 25 goals.
Fiji’s superior athleticism and size across the court was obvious from the start of their semifinal against Samoa.
By the end of the first Fiji had already taken a six point lead, but Samoa did not lie down and even took a two point lead with five minutes to go in the second quarter, but after taking a timeout with four minutes left Fiji got back on track to end the half 28-25 ahead.
Going into the fourth quarter with a 44-39 lead, Fiji asserted itself on the game pulling away to win the game 64-48.
Fiji’s catalyst in the centre of the court was Alesi Waqa, she said that her team needs to improve if they are to win the gold medal.
“Playing against Papua New Guinea is always tough,” she said. “We have to pick up another step from our game today against Samoa and be ready for them tomorrow.”
“We just need to be more mentally prepared for tomorrow’s game. We know that PNG will have the crowd support so we just have to be ready.”
Fiji look to be heavy favourites to win gold, given their loft place in world netball, but Rikis believes the home team has a chance to cause an upset.
“It’s going to be physical, but we just have to control the centre passes and try to get them into turnovers,” said Rikis.
“I’m not going to worry about how many games they have played (Fiji have played three, PNG four). I know we’ve played enough, we just need to cut down on our errors and score lots.”
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