Australia have progressed to the quarterfinals of the FIBA U17 World Championships in Zaragoza, Spain after holding off Bosnia and Herzegovina in a thrilling Round of 16 encounter.
Dynamic shot-maker Dragan Elkaz sparked Australia with a devastating fourth quarter scoring outburst, scoring 17 points including 4 of his 6 three-pointers, on his way to leading Australia with 25 points and 8 rebounds in the thrilling 75-72 win. Team Captain Tom Fullarton also impressed with 10 points and 4 rebounds while also taking on the daunting defensive assignment of slowing the tournament's leading scorer, Dzanan Musa (30.1ppg).
Australia opened strongly, scoring the first 6 points of the contest through the combination of Matthew Johns, Callum Dalton and Fullarton. When Elkaz landed his first points of the game via a three-pointer, Australian had managed to open up a 14-7 lead. Kody Stattman's injection into the game late n the quarter provided an immediate energy burst as Australia managed to take a 21-15 lead into the first break.
Johnson had a positive impact defensively at the start of the second, earning two straight defensive stops including a nice blocked shot. He continued to have an influence throughout the quarter however the scoring dried up for Australia, with only Dalton's opening score and two Stattman buckets as they would score just 6 points for the period. The scoring drought allowed Bosnia and Herzegovina to sneak ahead 30-27 at the main break.
Australia's defense had done a good job of restricting the tournament's leading scorer, Dzanan Musa (29ppg), to just 9 points in the first half. Fullarton had been wearing the dynamic scorer like a glove and it was paying dividends.
Dalton made Australia's first basket of the second half, then Elkaz drained his second triple of the game to put Australia back up 32-31. Both teams would continue to trade baskets, with Sean Macdonald and Elkaz keeping the score ticking over the Australia. Kyle Zunic and Mate Colina were combining well offensively. Colina scored his 6th points of the quarter on a nice put-pack, and when Stattman made a tough drive, the margin was just 1 point late in the third.
Bosnia and Herzegovina answered strongly through Musa, converting on a three-point play as he looked to take control of the contest. His side would make another tough basket late to earn a 52-47 advantage heading into the final term.
Musa connected on a big three to open the final quarter and push Bosnia and Herzegovina's lead out to 8. Fullarton would immediately respond with a trey of his own that would spark Australia's offense. Bosnia and Herzegovina still led by 7 points when Elkaz caught fire.
Elkaz would connect on three unanswered triples to edge his country ahead 59-57 with just over 6 minutes remaining. Johnson continued to play well, blocking a drive by Musa. However Musa would not be denied for long, scoring soon after to push his side back in front. But Elkaz again responded with some amazing shot-making, scoring the next 5 points including his fourth three-pointer of the final term to edge Australia ahead by 3 points with under 4 minutes to play.
Musa placed his country on his shoulders, helping open up a 5 point lead with 2:12 to play, forcing Australia to call a timeout. Samson Froling then found Fullarton on the wing for three to keep Australia close. Musa then missed both free throws after drawing a foul and was made to pay dearly as Elkaz made a tough drive in which he was fouled. A technical foul against Bosnia and Herzegovina was also awarded, with Elkaz making 1/2 from the line as Australia tied it up at 61-all with 1:18 left.
Elkaz then missed his next three-point attempt, but Froling was there to clean up with a nice lefty finish to put Australia up by 3 points with 1 minute to play and force Bosnia and Herzegovina to call a timeout. After a sloppy turnover by Bosnia and Herzegovina in stepping over the sideline on an inbound pass, Fullarton capitalised on the opportunity after working the shot clock for a wide open lay up and open up a 5 point margin.
Musa managed to find his way to the free throw line where he made both to collect his 34th point keep his country in the game. Australia then turned it over after in-bounding the ball, paving the way for a frantic final 33 seconds. Bosnia and Herzegovina missed 7 straight shots, including two wide-open three-point attempts that would have tied the game. Australia managed to withstand the final assault to record a deserved 3 point win.
Elkaz was simply outstanding in landing blow after blow in that pivotal final quarter. Johns was also impressive defensively, while also looking dangerous on offense with his versatile game. Froling, although quiet offensively (4 points), he pulled down 10 rebounds and had 2 blocked shots, including a timely rejection in the dying seconds of the game.
Australia again struggled from the free throw line (7/15, 46.7%), yet Bosnia and Herzegovina's Musa only landed 12/21 from the line as part of his team's 23/35 (65.7%) from the charity stripe. Their 40% from the field compared to their opponents 30.9% shooting saw Australia managed to earn the win in a very entertaining contest.
In advancing to the quarterfinals, Australia next take on Spain who demolished Chinese Taipei by 52 points in their last start. Spain are led by the play of power forward Sergi Martinez who has been delivering 19 points, 13.8 rebounds and 2 assists per game. The game will be played at 2:30am AEST on Friday, 1 July, streamed live online via FIBA's You Tube channel.
Australia 75 (Elkaz 25p, 8r, 3s; Fullarton 10p, 4r; Dalton 9p, 6r, 4a; Stattman 9p, 2r) Bosnia and Herzegovina 72 (Musa 34p, 7r; Cerkezovic 7p, 5r; Jankovic 6p, 14r)