Guam had reached the past five Pacific Games gold medal games, but had never managed to win one, making their victory at the PNG Power Dome on Sunday all the more sweet.
The win was personal for head coach E.J. Calvo (GUM), who himself had played in two Pacific Games gold medal game losses.
“It feels amazing, an experience we’ll never forget,” said Calvo.
“I’ve played in a couple of these, and to fall short, you never forget that and now to finally bring a gold back to Guam basketball, to put our programme at the next level, is great.”
Guam’s 41 percent shooting performance from deep really made the difference, particularly because Fiji committed to getting the ball out of Guam power forward Tai Wesley’s hands at all costs.
Joseph Blas (21 points), William Stinnett III (18 points) and Jesus Cruz (12 points) provided the backcourt punch and outside shooting to supplement Wesley’s 14 points.
After the game Wesley said that the win was a whole team effort.
“They [Fiji] came out and their whole mentality was that Tai Wes is not going to beat us, and that’s great. We’re a whole team, Guam beat you tonight,” said Wesley.
“It means everything, we’ve been close before, and now we’ve got it, nobody can take this away from us, ever.”From the outset it was clear that Guam’s fortunes would rest on whether the shooters around Wesley would fire when the ball was forced out of his hands.
Despite this, Guam’s first, second and third offensive option was still Wesley on the left block, and Fiji had clearly planned for it, sending doubles often and forcing him to either give the ball up or take a tough shot.
Fiji wing Joshua Fox admitted after the game that they picked their poison with forcing the ball out of Wesley’s hands.
“It was part of our plan to contest shots, and when they are making shots it’s tough to stop. We had to choose one and we decided to see if the shooters would keep hitting, and it was their day today,” said Fox.
At the other end Fiji’s more fluid offence was producing good shots early for Fox, Marques Whippy and Mataika Koyamainavure, but towards the end of the first half that changed.
Guam closed out the half the stronger, drying up Fiji’s scoring at the rim with some physical defence, and when Stinnett III hit a buzzer-beating three from just over half-court to send Guam into halftime with a ten-point lead (36-26), things looked grim for Fiji.
Fiji came out in the second half fighting for their Pacific Games lives, pulling closer to Guam with desperate play, but also aided by Guam cooling off from the three point line.
By the end of the third quarter Fiji had cut the lead to seven and were still in the game, with their chances improving further when Tai Wesley picked up his fourth foul and was forced to sit.
In the fourth, Guam turned up the defensive intensity again, and choked Fiji out of the game completely. Calvo said it was the best he has seen his team defend.
“Our defence was as good as I’ve seen it, ever. And that’s what we needed to beat Fiji,” he said.
“Team defence was the key to get this gold medal.”
Fox agreed that Guam’s defence really took Fiji out of their game.
“It was a good defensive plan. I think we forced a little bit too much and we started getting a little tight and not taking some of our shots,” said Fox.
“Congratulations to them (Guam), they are a great team, a great defensive team. They deserved their victory today.”
The bronze medal game featured the same two nations that played out the women’s bronze final on Saturday and the result was repeated, with Tahiti beating PNG 83-73.
The first half saw both teams’ defence dominate, with neither able to get any separation and at half time there was just one point the difference.
Apia Muri, who spent large parts of PNG’s semifinal loss on the bench with foul trouble, led his team to the break with eight points while Matiineng-Iakah Leahy (PNG) had seven.
Muri was playing a much bigger role in the bronze game, using his athleticism to get offensive rebounds and points on slashing drives.
For Tahiti, Eddy Commings led at the half with 11 points and Rahitiarii Teriierooiterai had eight.
The third quarter was Tahiti’s allowing them to build a nine point lead, and early in the fourth it looked like Tahiti would close the game out, but Muri got four points off two offensive rebounds on consecutive plays to pull PNG within six.
PNG then turned up the pressure defensively and with five minutes to go had cut the deficit to four.
But they could get no closer as on several possessions Tahiti went to a two-man game with Tahiti’s top-scorer Derrick Scott and wing Ariirimarau Meuel scoring eight combined points to give Tahiti a cushion they would not give up.
Tahiti won 83-73, Scott ended with 18 points on 6/11 shooting and Rehiti Sommers (TAH) had a perfect shooting game with 16 points on 5/5 shooting from the floor, including four threes.
By Joel Fitzpatrick, Games News Service