The Sapphires stormed home in a 26-14 final term for a come-from-behind 57-51 victory over Hungary to secure bronze at the 2018 FIBA Under-17 World Cup for women in Belarus.
Shyla Heal tallied 14 points in the fourth quarter to finish with 16 points to lead the Sapphires’ charge, with Lily Scanlon adding 11 and Agnes Emma-Nnopu coming up with 9 rebounds.
"It feels kind of surreal," enthused Heal after the game. "You always dream about it as a kid - you train every day in the lead up. So to come third in the world out of so countries is amazing
"We felt we should definitely have been in the Final, but we had a tough loss yesterday so we thought we’d bring it back for Australia and fight our hearts out today. I knew we were down and knew my team needed help and my team looks for me to step up in big moments so I thought ‘it’s my time - let's go'."
Bronzed Sapphires | Credit: FIBA
In the opening term, the Australians did a decent job of moving the ball early in the half court, but it was a long pass from Isabel Palmer that found Isobel Anstey under the basket in transition that secured the first basket of the game almost two minutes in. Palmer herself followed up with a neat finish from close range, but both teams found it tough to hit a shot in the face of some solid defence at both ends.
The Hungarians finally tallied their first basket of the contest nearly four minutes in, and with the introduction of Lily Scanlon off the bench proving to be a weapon for the Australians once again, the Sapphires moved out to a 9-2 lead after a Gemma Potter three. However a Hungarian timeout snapped the Sapphires’ momentum, and it became the team in red that finished the quarter the stronger of the two teams. A 9-0 run from Hungary set the Australians on the back foot slightly, but a late three from Scanlon ensured the Sapphires took a 12-11 lead after a quarter of play.
A moving screen on Hungary’s first possession of the second quarter gave the Sapphires the first scoring chance of the term, but once again points proved difficult to come by at both ends. It was Reka Dombai banking home a mid range shot to restore the Hungarian lead, but Georgia Amoore found Scanlon on the break for the quick response. Scanlon followed up by dishing to Ashlee Hannan for a three, and soon the Australian lead was 17-13 midway through the quarter.
After spurning a number of offensive rebounds and allowing Amoore to get free on the break, Hungary again called a timeout in an effort to regain the spark of the latter stages of the first quarter. A third moving screen of the quarter further disrupted the Hungarians’ rhythm as the turnover count moved to 14-6 with the Sapphires taking much better care of the ball than they had against France in the semi-final. But with shooting woes befalling both teams, an extremely low-scoring first half transpired as the Sapphires took a 19-17 lead into halftime despite shooting just 24% from the field, as the Hungarians connected at only 25%, failing to capitalise on a 33-16 rebounding advantage.
Hungary opened the second half with a banked shot from Aliz Varga, but Agnes Emma-Nnopu found Isobel Anstey in close quarters for an immediate response as the offensive play immediately looked to be a vast improvement on what had been on show in the first half. Soon after, Emma-Nnopu beat the shot clock with a contested finish, but the Hungarians kept pace as their mid range shots continued to fall. It would be the European side taking a 25-23 lead just shy of four minutes on as the interior defence began to trouble the Australian side.
The Sapphires forced a number of fouls to find themselves in the bonus with still four minutes remaining in the term, but it was Hungary who increased their lead to 29-23 as the shooting woes that had befallen the Australians in the early stages of the tournament reared their ugly head again. A steal on an inbound pass from Emma-Nnopu gave Palmer a wide-open look from close range to keep the Australians within striking distance and see Hungary take an immediate timeout.
Jade Melbourne had seen little playing time in this game but came in and almost immediately drew a charge before assisting on an Ashlee Hannan basket soon after. Yet Hungary maintained their slender advantage heading into the final stages of the term, which could have been increased if not for some lacklustre free throw shooting. The margin briefly grew to 8, but a late runner from Heal cut the lead to 37-31 heading into the final term following a 20-12 term that saw Hungary more than double their halftime score.
Alex Fowler was fouled going back up after grabbing an early offensive rebound, but couldn’t convert the resulting free throws. But a Hungarian turnover gave the Australians another early opportunity, with Heal getting to the basket. The teams traded baskets in the early stages of the fourth quarter, which kept the Sapphires within six, whilst three early fouls from Hungary put Australia close to the bonus just two minutes into the final term.
Some outstanding movement in transition from the Sapphires failed to result in a basket as Heal’s three was just off target, and Hungary replied in quick time with another jumper from Varga. Just as quickly though, Heal picked off an errant pass and raced up court for the lay-up and suddenly the momentum felt as if it was shifting. A sweet step-back for three followed from Heal, but a foul from Melbourne on a three-point shooting Nora Wentzel sent the Hungarian to the line for three free throws. Wentzel hit two of three, pushing Hungary back out to a 45-40 lead with five minutes remaining.
A deep two from Heal cut the lead to three and a turnover soon after forced a Hungarian timeout, but the Australian point guard responded to Hungary’s next basket with a spectacular finish, earning and converting the and-one to cut the margin to just two points. Then, when Melbourne copped the brunt of a moving screen, the Sapphires had the chance to tie the game with 3 minutes to play, which is exactly what Scanlon did with a mid range jumper. Varga responded with a layup, but Scanlon drew a foul in a fairly innocuous situation to go to the line and tie the game once again.
Scanlon fed Fowler close to the basket to give the Sapphires their first lead in over a quarter, but Hungary tied the game once again heading into the final minute. But a brilliant Heal step-back restored the Australian lead, and an exemplary Fowler rebound led to a foul, which sent the Sapphires’ forward to the line for two crucial free throws. Having missed her first two attempts earlier in the evening, the first shot hit just about every part of the ring before finally falling in, whilst the second could not have been cleaner to put Australia up 55-51 with just 20 seconds to play. The Hungarians could not respond with a basket, and when Melbourne knocked down two free throws to ice the game, the Australians could begin to celebrate a bronze medal after a dominant 26-14 final term secured the 57-51 victory.
Shyla Heal dominated in the final term to finish with 16 points on 7 of 15 shooting, with Lily Scanlon adding 11. Agnes Emma-Nnopu tallied just four points but came up with a vital 9 rebounds and 5 assists to help the Australians over the line in an instant classic. The Australians partially atoned for their semi-final loss to France with a dominant ending of their own, as all 10 players finished with points for the Sapphires.
The USA dismantled France 92-40 in the final to secure gold, with Jordan Horston named MVP who was joined by compatriots Aliyah Boston and Hsaley Jones, French star Iliana Rupert and Heal in the tournament's All-Star Five.
2018 FIBA U17 World Cup All-Tournament Five | Credit: FIBA
Heal was outstanding all tournament, finishing 2nd in the tournament for scoring with 16 points per game. She scored her points at 50% shooting from the field to finish 3rd in that category, was 8th in the tournament for three-point shooting (38.1%), while finishing fifth for total efficiency. Heal also collected 5.7 rebounds per game, a highly impressive number for a player often among the shortest on court, whilst her 2.7 assists per game were good enough for 16th in the tournament.
Heal joins 2016 selections Jasmine Simmons, Ezi Magbegor, and Monique Conti as Under-17 World Cup All-Stars, with Australia's four selections the most of any nation across the last two tournaments.
Australia 57 (Heal 16p; Scanlon 11p; Hannan 5p; Emma-Nnopu 4p, 9r, 5a) Hungary 51 (Angyal 16p; Wentzel 10p; Varga 6p, 9r; Dombai 6p, 7r)
2018 Under 17 World Cup Results
22 July: Australia defeated Angola 81-43 23 July: Australia defeated Latvia 60-41 24 July: Australia defeated Canada 64-48 25 July: Round of 16: Australia defeated New Zealand 77-37 27 July: Quarter-Finals: Australia defeated Italy 64-46 28 July: Semi-Finals: Australia lost to France 58-68 29 July: Playoff for Bronze: Australia defeated Hungary 57-51
Broadcast arrangements for the bronze medal game have yet to be confirmed.