Gems finish sixth after gripping loss to France

Australia’s Gems have finished sixth at the FIBA Under 19 World Cup after a tight 45-47 loss to France despite taking a three-point lead into the final term.

Chloe Bibby and Ezi Magbegor each registered double-doubles, with Bibby leading the team in both points and rebounds with 11 and 13.

Both teams got on the board early via their leading scorers as Magbegor and Marie-Paule Foppossi traded left-handed finishes in the opening minute, before the French defense failed to close out Jazmin Shelley, who was only too happy to knock down the first three of the game. Turnovers and blocks became a theme of the next couple of possessions, with both teams struggling to find open looks, and failing to find the mark when they did come about.

The Gems failed to find any scoring for over three minutes, and it was Zitina Aokuso who broke the drought with tip-in. The French side only dropped in one basket in that time, and when Anneli Maley found herself wide open by the basket, the Australians had picked up a 9-4 lead, forcing France into a timeout.

The French had only themselves to blame for their inability to score, with open lay-ups being wasted on regular occasions and their three-point shooting failing to provide a scoring outlet. Magbegor punished the French to a degree with a close-range effort, but couldn’t complete the and-one at the line. Abby Cubillo did find success at the line after being fouled on a late drive to the basket, sinking both and pushing the Gems out to a 14-7 lead after a quarter of play.

France found a little more shooting accuracy in the early stages of the second quarter, gaining some success as speedy point guard Hortense Limouzin added some spark to the contest. The Australians started the quarter with points from Magbegor and Kiera Rowe, but from there the scoring dried up. With the French looking dangerous and trimming the margin at pace, Bibby finished in traffic to at least slow the opposition charge to extend the Australian lead to 20-15.

Bibby found Magbegor with a clever pass in the paint, but a quick French run drew the team in blue and white within a solitary point. Mississippi State signee Bibby then knocked down a three to re-establish a four point lead at 25-21. France countered with a basket of their own, but as in the first quarter, a pair of Cubillo free throws ended the scoring for the quarter for the Gems. Yet Loreen Kerboeuf would find a wide open lane to end the half with a French basket, with the scoreboard reading 27-25 in the Gems’ favour at halftime.

Despite shooting just 28% from two-point range, a 2-5 mark from beyond the arc in comparison to France’s 1-8 clip from the same area helped allow the Australians to maintain a slender lead going into the second half.

The teams traded turnovers early in the third quarter before trading baskets, as France briefly tied the game before taking a 31-29 lead as Maeva Djaldi-Tabdi earned a trip to the charity stripe and promptly converted the opportunity after drawing the foul on Magbegor. With the Australians unable to find much of anything on offence as shot after shot failed to find its way through the net, Lara McSpadden came into the game and immediately added to the Gems’ total, with a neat inbound pass from Shelley finding the Newcastle product for the lay-up.

France had more luck finding the basket on tough looks that had eluded them in the first half, but occasionally found it harder on the open looks, allowing the Australians to take the lead courtesy of a runner from Shelley and a pair of free throws from Bibby after she was fouled on a left-handed drive. With Foppossi on the bench in foul trouble, Bibby took advantage with another drive to the basket, this time finishing to take her personal tally to 11 and give the Gems a 37-33 cushion.

A spectacular spinning basket from Shelley earned an and-one opportunity, but the Gems’ guard couldn’t convert to leave the Australians leading 39-36 heading into the final minute of the period. The Gems’ defense locked down France in that final minute to prevent any scoring, leaving the game on a knife-edge at that same scoreline with a quarter remaining.

Conti responded to an early French basket by splitting a pair at the line after being fouled on a drive, but with the Gems throwing the ball away a couple of times in the opening stages of the fourth quarter, the offence looked a little disjointed. Amandine Michaud ensured the Gems paid for their turnovers, knocking down a three to give France a 41-40 lead.

With neither team able to find any kind of scoring, the final quarter ticked past the midway point with France having scored five points and Conti’s free throw remaining the Gems’ only scoring play of the term. When a score finally did come, it was Maley finding McSpadden in the post for a left-handed finish for a vital Gems basket.

Although the Gems had found it tough to score, they had done a solid job of drawing fouls and found themselves in the bonus with still four minutes to play. However, once they got into the bonus, the free throws dried up for the Gems, and with little other scoring outlets for the Australians, the French tied the game after an air ball fell into a wide open Foppossi’s hands for a lay-up.

A beautiful spin move from Djaldi-Tabdi put France up 45-43 with just over a minute to play and forced Australia into a timeout. The pass into the paint from Shelley was picked off by the French before Magbegor could reel it in, but an offensive foul from the Tricolores gave the Australians a chance to tie things up. Magbegor promptly did so with a tough finish from the left block, leading to a French timeout with the score tied at 45-45.

Another French air ball gave the Gems an opportunity to win the game late, but a shot clock violation from the Australians handed back that chance to their opponents with 5.3 seconds on the clock. Tima Pouye drove to the basket, and earned two free throws as Shelley was on the wrong end of a tough foul call late in the game for the second time after receiving the same treatment against Russia.

Pouye converted both, leaving Australia three seconds to tie the game. Running almost the same play as they ran in the final seconds against Russia, Magbegor’s shot from almost the same spot as Bibby’s in that game ended with the same result, coming up just short to see the Gems fall 47-45 to finish sixth.

The Australians’ six point final quarter was their lowest scoring period of the tournament, with the Gems’ shooting falling off from beyond the arc in the second half, going 0-5 alongside their continued 28% clip from inside the arc.

Bibby top scored for the Gems with 11 points and completed a double-double with a game-high 13 rebounds. Magbegor also completed a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds, while Maley chalked up 11 rebounds of her own. Shelley led the Gems in assists with five.

Box Score

Australia's quarterfinal conqueror Russia created history by toppling the USA 86-82 to end the American's winning streak at this event at 7 straight titles. Star Russian center Maria Vadeeva would go on to be named tournament MVP. Japan would lose the playoff for bronze to fall short to Canada 60-67.

Gems World Cup Results

July 22: Australia lost to Japan 61-66 July 24: Australia defeated Mexico 104-34 July 25: Australia defeated Hungary 75-51 July 27: Australia defeated Latvia 61-56 July 28: Quarterfinals – Australia lost to Russia 65-67 July 29: Classification (5-8) - Australia defeated China 70-64 July 30: Playoff for 5th - Australia lost to France 45-47