Australia’s FIBA U17 World Championship for women campaign got off to a flying start as the Sapphires comprehensively defeated Mexico 98-38 in the tournament’s first game in Zaragoza.
Australia were expected to face little resistance from the 4th placed team in last year’s FIBA Americas Under 16 tournament, and that came to pass as the Sapphires held Mexico to single figures in three of four quarters in a 98-38 victory.
The Sapphires started brightly, going on a 6-0 run in the early stages of the game. Rebecca Pizzey scored the first points of the tournament, laying the ball in from close to the basket to make up for a travel on the first possession of the game. Pizzey and starting front court partner Ezi Magbegor made the most of their height advantage over the Mexicans early on, with both able to earn trips to the line, whilst also cleaning up on the boards.
Mexico finally hit their first points 3 minutes into the game, hitting from beyond the arc. Australia were able to get the ball inside with relative ease, but missed several shots close to the basket early on. With only one made field goal in three minutes of play, coach Shannon Seebohm called a timeout with 4:29 to play in the first quarter, and from that point onwards, things improved for the Aussies. Jazmin Shelley hit a 3 pointer in the first possession out of the timeout off an assist from Monique Conti, before Conti hit one of her own as the Sapphires extended the lead to 19-8 by the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter was far more of a procession for the Sapphires than the first. As the Australians began to hit a couple of shots from outside, the Mexican defense, which had been crowding the paint, was forced to adjust. This gave Magbegor room to find position near the basket with ease and the Victorian took advantage to connect on 3/4 field goals in the first half, all from within five feet of the basket.
Four players in the Sapphires team are taller than anyone on the Mexican roster, and this advantage continued to show as the Mexican side became hesitant to attack the basket in the second quarter. This proved to be with good reason as Magbegor emphatically swatted away one of Mexico’s few lay-up attempts. However, it also forced them to take more and more outside shots, finishing the first half with just 2 three-pointers from 11 attempts, shooting at an overall clip of just 22%.
The emphatic display by the Sapphires meant that Seebohm was able to rotate his players, and by the end of the half, all 12 Australian players had not just seen playing time, but also added their names to the score sheet. The quarter finished 26-7 in Australia’s favour which saw the Sapphires go into the halftime break up 45-15.
The points continued to flow for the Sapphires in the second half, with Miela Goodchild scoring the Aussies’ first five points of the third quarter in quick time. Whilst the offence continued to pour in the points, the Sapphires’ defense was not quite up to the same standard it had been in the first half. Whilst Australia managed 27 points in the third quarter, Mexico were able to counter with 15 points of their own, equalling their first half output in a quarter of play.
Whilst the half court defense may have suffered from a couple of lapses as the starters saw reduced minutes as the game progressed, Abby Cubillo’s tenacious pressing high up the court resulted in several turnovers, either from steals of her own or from forcing Mexico into passes which were picked off by her Sapphires teammates.
Normal service resumed in the fourth quarter as Seebohm continued to rotate his players, with Australia holding Mexico to single figures for the final term whilst scoring 26 points of their own. With starters such as Magbegor and Shelley not even playing 15 minutes as the Sapphires cruised to victory, opportunities arose for other players to show their talents.
Conti was one player who was especially able to do this. The Vic Metro guard finished as Australia’s top scorer with 14 points on 5/11 from the field, and also led the Sapphires in assists with 6. Four Australians finished in double figures, whilst on the defensive end, captain Jasmine Simmons notched 3 steals and 3 blocks to go with 7 points and 4 rebounds as Australia ran out 98-38 victors. Notably, after starting the game shooting just 2/8 from the field, the Australians shot 37/68 for the game, a rate of 54%.
The Sapphires continue their campaign against China on Thursday night at 10:15pm (AEST), before their final group game against France on Saturday night at 8:00pm (AEST).
Australia 98 (Monique Conti 14p, 6a; Ezi Magbegor 12p, 8r; Miela Goodchild 10p, 3r) Mexico 38 (Maria Ruiz 9p, 2r; Gabriela Rosas 6p, 6r; Diana Cano 5p, 8r)