Gems' comeback falls just short in quarterfinal thriller

A remarkable comeback effort from the Gems has fallen just short in their quarterfinal at the FIBA Under 19 World Cup, going down 67-65 after a last-second shot from Chloe Bibby just failed to find the bottom of the basket.

Jazmin Shelley led the Gems with 26 points, whilst Anneli Maley chalked up 13 rebounds and Monique Conti added 8 assists.

Coach Deanne Butler was forced into a slight change to the starting lineup, with Conti replacing the injured Maddison Rocci as Shelley’s partner in the back court. It was Shelley who opened the scoring with a wide open three, before star Russian center Maria Vadeeva created some room for herself on two consecutive possessions to give the Russians their first lead of the game.

Fortunately for the Gems, the Russians’ outside shooting wasn’t quite as effective. Shelley’s was though, as she knocked down a second three from almost the same spot to restore Australia’s advantage. With the Gems doing outstanding work to deny the pass, opportunities were limited for Russia in the early stages, but Vadeeva continued to make the most of what she was offered to score Russia’s first six points of the contest.

Against a Russian team with a lot more height than most of their previous opponents, there was always potential for the Gems’ offensive rebounding advantage that had served them well in recent games to disappear, but it certainly didn’t appear that way in the opening stages. Five in the first six minutes gave the Australians plenty of extra looks, but they were unable to take advantage of their opportunities around the basket. But with the Russians also exhibiting inaccurate shooting, points remained at a premium. However, with Russia in the bonus, the free throw line proved to be a decent way for them to add to their total, which the extended to 11-6.

With Vadeeva off the court, Rebecca Pizzey took advantage with some nice work in the paint followed by a pair of free throws to add four quick points for the Gems. Yet Russia countered to maintain a 15-10 lead as the buzzer sounded to end the quarter.

Aokuso split a pair at the line to open the scoring, and with the Gems doing a good job of using the double-team to contain Vadeeva, Russia were unable to get much going on offence in the early stages of the second quarter, and the Gems capitalised. Lara McSpadden found her way to the basket with a smart move, before Maley knocked down a three to draw the Gems within four points approaching the midway point of the quarter. A neat Chloe Bibby turn-around jumper from close range then made it 19-17, and with Russia’s offensive fouls killing their momentum, the Gems looked the more likely as their opponents were forced into a timeout with Vadeeva finding herself in foul trouble.

The timeout mattered little. Shelley got to the line and nailed a pair before Bibby gave the Gems a 21-19 lead after a steal on the inbound pass. With the Russians looking increasingly devoid of confidence in their shot, the Australians seemed destined to head into the halftime break with the lead. Shelley got to the basket to extend the lead to 23-19, but Russia managed to hit their first three of the game to bring the margin back to a solitary point. Zitina Aokuso rounded out the half with a pair of free throws to see the Gems take a 25-22 lead into halftime after holding Russia to seven points for the quarter.

After spending much of the first half on the bench with two fouls, Magbegor came back in for the second half and added the first four points of the term for the Gems. Russia must have found their shooting form in the locker room at halftime though, because they knocked down a couple of early shots to stay right on the Gems’ heels before tying things up at 29-29 just past the two-minute mark.

Bibby restored the Gems’ advantage at the line, but a Russian three from Kurilchuk gave Russia their first lead since midway through the second quarter at 32-31. Soon after, Magbegor picked up her third foul to head to the bench for a spell and Russia immediately capitalised through lay-ups to Musina and Vadeeva, leading to an Australian timeout.

Four more Russian points followed before Shelley scooped home a remarkable reverse lay-up after driving baseline to stop the run. Vadeeva came out of the game, but as soon as Australia got to the line a couple of times through Magbegor and Maley, she was straight back in as the rotation of the front court players turned into a bit of a game of chess between the coaches.

Abby Cubillo may not be a front court player, but she came up big with a three for her first points of the game to trim the lead to four, before Magbegor came up with a monster block on Vadeeva’s attempted lay-up. It would be Russia who scored the final points of the quarter though, a killer last second three taking the margin to 47-38 with ten minutes to play as the Russian offence conjured a 25-15 quarter.

Shelley continued her solid outing with a three to start the quarter, but Vadeeva drew a relatively soft foul on Magbegor on the very next possession, the Australian center's fourth of the contest. Bibby found her way to the basket soon after, but neither team could get a shot to fall in the following minutes. Eventually, it was the Russians who got a couple of baskets to fall, forcing a Gems timeout.

The timeout worked. A 7-0 run ensued for the Australians and it was then Russia’s turn to call a halt to proceedings to talk things over. The Russians’ timeout didn’t have quite the same effect, but it halted the Gems’ scoring until Shelley trimmed the Russian lead to 59-52 with 2:40 to play.

A fast break lay-up from Magbegor and a three from Maley drew the Gems within five, and when Shelley earned and converted a three-point play, the Gems were within two at 62-60. But a smart hesitation move from Vadeeva saw her head to the line for her own three-point play to push the lead back out to five points with less than a minute to play.

The Gems weren’t done, though. Conti hit a lay-up and then nabbed the ball from Vadeeva, with the resulting possession ending in a Shelley three which tied the game with 24 seconds to play and sent Russia to a timeout.

Russia’s move was always going to involve Vadeeva in the paint, and that’s exactly what they did. Shelley attempted the block but the foul was called, forcing her to the line rather than sinking the easy two. Nonetheless, Vadeeva hit both to leave the Gems down 67-65 with 5.5 seconds to play and the ball in the front court after a timeout.

Shelley found Maley off the inbound who fed Bibby in the paint for the quick shot from close range. The shot found the rim but refused to fall, and with the final buzzer sounding before anyone could gain control of a rebound, Russia emerged 67-65 victors despite an astounding comeback in the final minutes.

Like her effort for the Sapphires in 2016’s semifinal against the United States, Shelley was again massive in a big game for her country, hitting 5 of 9 from beyond the arc on her way to 26 points for the Gems. Bibby finished just shy of a double-double with 10 points and 9 rebounds, whilst Maley was again outstanding on the glass to collect 13 rebounds alongside 6 points.

Although their chances at a medal may have fallen by the wayside, Australia will now take on China in the 5th-8th placed bracket semi-finals, after China fell to Canada in their quarter-final.That game will be played at 9:30pm AEST on Saturday.

Box Score