Czechs bounced as Sapphires set up semi showdown with USA

Australia have set up a semifinal encounter with the United States following a comprehensive 83-53 victory over the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals of the FIBA Under 17 Women’s World Championship in Zaragoza, Spain.

Ezi Magbegor led all scorers with 20 points alongside 8 rebounds and 6 blocks, while team Captain Jasmine Simmons notched a double-double in finishing with 17 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 assists.

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The Czechs scored the opening points of the game on a pair of free throws from Sipova before Vorackova found herself wide open under the basket to double the lead early on. The Sapphires gave themselves plenty of opportunities with some decent looks, but missed their first five shots of the game as the Czechs got away to an early 6-0 lead. Only a pair of blocked shots from Magbegor prevented the lead from growing even more.

Finally after 4 minutes of play, a smart in-bounds play led to a floater from Simmons to give the Sapphires their first points of the game. Monique Conti quickly followed up with a drive to the basket to cut the Czech lead to just two.

The Australian defense was excellent late in the first quarter, with Magbegor’s five blocks a standout. Shooting 4/9 from the field after their initial scoreless streak, the Sapphires were able to claw back their way to within 1 point (11-12) after a first term which had initially looked as if it may get away from the Australians.

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The second quarter opened with yet another block from Magbegor before Samantha Simons opened the scoring for the term with a three from the wing, taking the score to 15-12 to give Australia their first lead of the game. The teams traded free throws before an excellent skip pass from Simons found Jazmin Shelley wide open about 10 feet from the basket as the Czech defense crowded one side of the floor, giving the Sapphires a 19-15 lead and forcing the Czech coach to call a time-out with just over 3 minutes played in the term.

The timeout proved to be of little immediate help for the Czechs as they were whistled for an 8 second call on their next possession. However, the only scoring either team could produce was from the line before Simmons found Magbegor in transition to force another Czech timeout with the Australian lead out to 24-18.

The timeout did little to halt the Australian charge. Magbegor hit a basket before Simmons converted an and-one after a beautiful step-through to extend the margin to 11. A couple of fouls with the Czechs in the bonus cut the margin to 7 before a three pointer from Tomancova in the dying seconds saw the Australian margin cut to 31-27 at halftime.

Conti provided a great spark off the bench in the first half, scoring six points and contributing a couple of assists. Meanwhile, Simmons was doing it all at both ends, with 7 points and 11 rebounds at half time.

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The second half began much the same as the first, as the Czech side scored the first four points to tie the game at 31-31 before Simmons nabbed a rebound from a Kiera Rowe three-point attempt and hit the lay-up to restore the Australian advantage. Rowe then drew an offensive foul, and Simmons followed up with an excellent left-hand drive to extend the lead back out to 4 points and also chalk up a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds just 2 minutes into the third term.

With the Czechs unable to get anything of substance going on offense, the Sapphires were able to push the lead out to 39-32 and force a Czech timeout. Whilst the Czech offense was being stifled by the Australian defense, the Sapphires’ ball movement was starting to find its rhythm. Some excellent passing, especially by Shelley and Simmons on three offensive possessions midway through the quarter found Magbegor under the basket each time, and she converted on all three to push the lead to double digits at 48-36.

As the Sapphires defense continued to shut down the Czechs, who scored just 4 points in the last 5 minutes of the third quarter, their offense shone throughout the period. Magbegor scored 11 points as the Australians blew the game wide open with a 25-11 quarter to take a 56-38 lead into the final term.

The fourth quarter saw the Czechs look as if they were ready to spark a comeback of sorts as they hit two quick baskets to trim the Australian lead to 15, but Simons put paid to that idea with a corner three which slowed the Czech momentum coming out of the break. But with the Australians giving up a couple of turnovers, coach Shannon Seebohm saw fit to call a timeout which appeared to restore some order in the Sapphires’ offense. Magbegor finished a tough shot off the glass before Cubillo drained a 3 from near the right corner to push the Australian lead out to 65-44 with six minutes to play.

The Czechs tried everything in their power to slow down the Sapphires, but much of the time it led to trips to the line for the Aussies, who had 10 free throw attempts in the final term after only managing 15 attempts through the first three-quarters.

Magbegor had what was undoubtedly her finest performance of the tournament. After getting into foul trouble in previous games, Magbegor had no such issues against the Czechs, finishing with and imposing 20 points, 8 rebounds and 6 blocks in 31 minutes of action before being given a well-earned rest for the final three minutes of the game.

The Australians continued to pile on the points throughout the fourth quarter, eventually tallying 27 to their opponents’ 15 to win the second half 52-26 on their way to a commanding 83-53 victory.

The Sapphires shot an impressive 52.5% from the field while restricting their opponents to just 24% shooting. Simmons and Magbegor were the stars for the Sapphires, but the impact of players such as Rowe, Conti and Shelley can not be understated. All three put in excellent shifts, and whilst they may not have filled up the stat sheet, they all contributed to the win in other ways.

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The Sapphires’ win sets up a clash against the tournament favourite United States in the semifinals. This match will be played on Friday night at a time yet to be determined and will be live streamed on FIBA’s YouTube channel.

Australia 83 (Ezi Magbegor 20p, 8r, 6b; Jasmine Simmons 17p, 15r, 5a; Jazmin Shelley 10p, 4a, 3s) Czech Republic 53 (Kristyna Brabencova 12p, 4r; Veronika Sipova 8p, 3r; Anezka Kopecka 6p, 4r)

Box Score

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