Australia will play for fifth at the FIBA Under 19 World Cup as the Gems bounced back from their loss to Russia to defeat China 70-64 in a second straight nail-biting game.
Ezi Magbegor dominated at times to top score with 27 points while Chloe Bibby added 11 for the Gems.
Despite being dwarfed by her Chinese opponent, 205cm Xu Han, Ezi Magbegor’s athleticism proved to be an equaliser in the battle in the paint in the early stages. The pair each found success on the offensive end as the game remained tight through the first five minutes. Jazmin Shelley continued her good form from the previous night’s game against Russia with four points, but China held a 9-8 lead midway through the opening term.
With the Chinese height advantage disrupting the Australians at times, the Gems were forced to work exceptionally hard for their shots, but nonetheless they remained in close contention. Monique Conti came up with an assist on a clever pass to find Bibby in close proximity to the basket, before picking off a pass on China’s next possession. The Gems went to the bench soon after, with Lara McSpadden stuffing Han with the help of Anneli Maley, before Abby Cubillo and Rebecca Pizzey added some quick points. China hit the final basket of the quarter, but the Gems retained a 16-13 lead in the wake of a solid performance from all players involved.
China opened the second quarter by missing a wide open lay-up after the Gems’ defense parted like the Red Sea, but McSpadden had no designs on being so generous, finishing with a smart pump fake and move to the basket. China quickly responded with a three, trimming the lead to 18-16.
The Chinese side certainly had the better opening to the second term, and when Kiera Rowe was called for a questionable unsportsmanlike foul, they went up 23-18 courtesy of the resulting free throw and a basket on the ensuing possession. They would eventually extend that lead to 25-18 before Bibby finally added to the Gems’ tally. Han continued to cause havoc with her height, moving her personal tally to 13 points and 10 rebounds by the midpoint of the second quarter.
Four quick Gems points courtesy of Bibby and Conti had the Australians briefly within two before a three-point play quickly re-established the Chinese buffer. Shelley and Conti responded with threes - the Gems’ first of the contest - either side of one from China, and at 32-30 up, the Chinese coach called a timeout with just on two minutes to play in the opening half.
Four of the next five possessions resulted in turnovers, and even the one that wasn’t would have been a shot clock violation if the Australians hadn’t rebounded a wild Chinese shot that missed the rim entirely. The final possession of the half saw Conti find Shelley with a clever pass across the top of the arc, but Shelley’s three point shot was off the mark and the period ended 32-30 in China’s favour. Interestingly, the Gems shot a total of zero free-throws in the first half, a number made all the more remarkable by the fact that only four of their 36 field goal attempts came from three-point range.
Having spent the entire first half unable to find their way to the line, the Gems earned a trip to the charity stripe through Magbegor on the very first play of the second half, with the center splitting a pair. Soon after, Conti found Magbegor wide open in the paint with a clever pass and the Gems had taken a 35-34 lead. The teams traded baskets and the lead until Bibby earned a foul and converted a pair at the line.
Magbegor started to cause Han a few more issues than she was able to in the first half, but a couple of errant passes disrupted the Gems’ flow on offence. That prevented them from capitalising as China moved out to a 44-41 lead on a picked off pass which led to a fast break lay-up.
With China looking dangerous and finding open looks, Zitina Aokuso came up with a superb block from behind preventing a certain basket. The Queenslander then earned a trip to the line, splitting a pair and tying things at 44-44 with three minutes retaining in the third quarter. Magbegor then went on a veritable charge, scoring six consecutive points for the Gems to hand the Australians a 51-48 lead going into the final quarter.
Magbegor continued her scoring streak, scoring the first basket of the final quarter. The Gems continued to build a lead, eventually getting out to 57-50 before Jiaqi Wang knocked down a three to pull China within four. Magbegor and Aokuso continued to dominate in the paint though, and soon the Gems had established a 61-53 lead and Magbegor had worked her way to 23 points to lead all scorers before China called a much-needed timeout.
The timeout did its job, stifling the Gems’ momentum and China scored the first five points after the stoppage. It looked as if five would become seven, but an offensive foul denied China the basket that would have drawn them within a point. Instead, Bibby knocked down a three to slow the Chinese momentum and extend the lead to six. As time wound down into the final two minutes of the contest, that margin held firm.
Some mature play by the Gems saw them able to run well over 30 seconds off the clock, but with no resulting basket, China quickly trimmed the margin to four from close range. They then had the chance to halve that margin at the line, but Yu Tang missed two free throws. Magbegor made China pay with a basket to take her personal tally to 27 points.
With China taking almost thirty seconds to earn a trip to the line, the Australian lead remained 68-62 with 20 seconds to play and Han at the charity stripe. The towering center connected on both, but with China only on two team fouls, getting the Gems to the line in quick time would be a challenging prospect. Eventually, it was Abby Cubillo who went to the line and the Northern Territorian knocked down both to secure a 70-64 victory for the Gems, with the Australians exhibiting a much improved offensive performance in comparison to the previous night’s game against Russia.
Magbegor was at her scintillating best, particularly in the second half, to finish with 27 points and 10 rebounds. Bibby exhibited an improved shooting performance to finish with 11 points on 4/9 from the field, while Shelley added 9 points and 5 assists. Anneli Maley was yet again a force on the glass to pick up 9 rebounds, with Conti dishing out 6 assists with 3 steals.
The Gems will now face France in the playoff for fifth after they defeated Spain in their playoff game overnight. The game is scheduled for 12:00am AEST on Sunday night (early Monday morning) which will again be live streamed on The Pick and Roll Facebook page.