Gems advance, Emus crash at FIBA U18 Oceania Championships

Australia will be leaving the FIBA Under-18 Oceania Championships with mixed feelings. Overwhelmed by the joy of the Gems dominating the women’s bracket, the Aussies were equally as disappointed when they came up short against New Zealand in a thrilling gold medal match on the men’s side.

After their 93.3-point winning margin average at the 2014 event, many wondered if the Australian women could match that same level of production. Well, not only did they match those lofty standards, but they exceeded them; winning their five games by an average of 106.4 points.

The Gems were the heavy favourites heading into the event, but even they must have been slightly surprised by their sheer dominance at the tournament. However, maybe we should have seen it coming, as the Gems had eight players from their gold medal U17 World Championship squad playing in Fiji – Jazmin Shelley, Abby Cubillo, Monique Conti, Jasmine Simmons, Sam Simons, Kiera Rowe, Ezi Magbegor and Lara McSpadden.

It was a player not from that list, though, that impressed in the gold medal affair. Chantel Horvat finished with 18 points and seven rebounds in Australia’s 107-52 gold medal match victory over New Zealand. Additionally, Horvat’s 18.6 points per game average led all scorers at the event, with her 60.3 field goal percentage ranking second.

Another key cog in the gold medal match victory was Zitina Aokuso, whose nine-point, 17-rebound effort won her the games’ MVP honours.

After the game, Horvat was grateful for the opportunity she was given to play at the U18 Oceania’s.

“It’s such an amazing experience and I’m so thankful to be able to share it with such a great group of players, coaches and staff,” Horvat said, via FIBA.

“We did really well and the girls are awesome, so it was such a great feeling.”

As for her teammates, they weren’t too shabby either. Six of the top-10 scorers at the championships were Gems, including Horvat, Magbegor (15.0), Chloe Bibby (14.2), Shelley (13.8), Conti (12.6) and Aokuso (11.8).

Another indication of Australia’s supremacy at the event was they occupied three spots in the FIBA U18 Women's Oceania Championship 2016 All-Star Five. Conti, Shelley and Magbegor were joined by New Zealand’s Akiene Reed and Losalina Katia, as the five best players of the tournament.

Australia will now begin preparations for the FIBA U19 Women’s World Championships, which will take place in Italy next year, from July 22-30. The Gems have fared well at past U19 World’s, winning bronze at the past two tournaments, while securing a famous gold medal in 1993. Their competition at the World Championships will include USA, Canada, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Mali, Egypt, China, Japan, South Korea, France, Spain, Russia, Latvia, Hungary and host nation Italy.

Final standings of the FIBA U18 Women's Oceania Championship 2016:

  1. Australia

  2. New Zealand

  3. Samoa

  4. New Caledonia

  5. Fiji

  6. Tahiti

  7. Papua New Guinea

  8. Guam

For the Emus, this marks the first time they’ve failed to qualify for the U19 World Championships.

With stars such as William McDowell-White (Fresno State), Harry Froling (SMU) and Deng Gak (Florida) unable to participate due to US college commitments, the Emus entered the U18 Oceania’s undermanned compared to previous seasons.

The squad was still stacked with talent, as Angus Glover and Jacob Rigoni were named to the tournament’s All-Star Five, accompanied by New Zealand’s Sam Waardenburg and Quinn Clinton, while Guam also had a member in the team, Michael Min.

Along with Glover (8.0 points, 3.4 assists) and Rigoni’s (12.8 points, 7.6 rebounds) strong campaigns, Isaac White was another shining light for the Aussies. White’s 14.8 scoring average was the third-best at the event, and he also added 6.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.

In a back-and-fourth gold medal affair, the Emus couldn’t stop Clinton, as the New Zealand captain hit two huge three-pointers in the dying stages to secure victory. With the Aussies ahead 51-50 with 40 seconds left, Clinton banked in a three-pointer while getting fouled. However, he would miss the subsequent free throw, but an offensive rebound and put-back from Taane Samuel was the final nail in Australia’s coffin.

Final standings of the FIBA U18 Oceania Championship 2016:

  1. New Zealand

  2. Australia

  3. Guam

  4. New Caledonia

  5. Samoa

  6. Fiji

  7. Tahiti