Sapphires first half sets up big win over China

Another strong start has paved the way for a second Sapphires win at the FIBA Under 17 World Championships, as the Australians converted a 16 point first quarter lead into a 66-41 victory over China.

Samantha Simons employed some excellent outside shooting to finish as top scorer, connecting on 4/6 from beyond the arc on her way to 16 points. Ezi Magbegor finished just shy of a double-double, collecting 12 points and 8 rebounds.

Coming into the game, you would have been forgiven for thinking that Ezi Magbegor may have had some trouble against 200cm Chinese centre Xu Han, but the Australian center’s athleticism more than compensated for her slight height disadvantage. Magbegor picked up 4 points and 4 rebounds in the first quarter, making her taller opponent look like a passenger for parts of the opening term.

A couple of errant passes stifled some Sapphires possessions, but some excellent defending from the more athletic Australian side allowed them to open up a 9-3 lead by the midway point of the first quarter. With the Australian interior presence dominating defensively, China quickly became reliant on their 3 point shooting, which had been a factor in their win over France. However, they started poorly in this area, hitting just 1/6 from beyond the arc in the first quarter.

The Sapphires, on the other hand, were able to get the ball inside with consummate ease in the first quarter. 10 of their first quarter points came in the paint, whilst the majority of their 6 converted free throws were earned as a result of fouls around the basket. After some excellent play around the basket, Samantha Simons changed things up late on with a three-pointer to finish the quarter, giving Australia a 21-5 lead at the first break.

A 7-2 run to commence the second quarter forced an early timeout from China, with Sam Simons knocking down a couple of baskets before assisting on a Lara McSpadden lay-up. Whilst the points weren’t shared around quite as much in the first half as had been the case against Mexico, coach Shannon Seebohm was again unafraid to use his entire rotation. All 12 Australian players featured by midway through the second quarter as the Sapphires again exhibited their terrific depth.

Coming out of the timeout, China began to attack the paint more, but it proved fruitless for a couple of minutes before they finally drew a foul from McSpadden and converted a pair of free throws. At the other end, Simons connected on her third three pointer of the game to stay perfect from the field and rack up a quick 11 points.

As China’s zone defence began to impede the Sapphires’ ability to get the ball inside as easily as they had done previously, Monique Conti hit a three from a good three feet beyond the arc to put the Australians up 36-11 with a minute to play in the half, before Lucy Cochrane scored the last points of the half with a tough putback under the basket to give Australia a 38-11 halftime lead. The Sapphires restricted China to just 3/29 field goal shooting, whilst connecting on 13/28 of their own attempts from the field.

The Chinese side started the third quarter with three fouls inside a minute, eventually sending Pizzey to the line, who opened the scoring for the second half by converting both. But with Magbegor off the court in foul trouble, Xu Han started to come into her own slightly as a couple of turnovers from the Sapphires allowed China to start the second half on a 7-2 run before Jasmine Simmons managed to steal the ball away and lay the ball in on the fast break.

However China continued to frustrate the Aussies. The Sapphires scored just four points in the first six minutes of the third quarter before Simons hit her fourth consecutive three-pointer to take her personal tally to 14 and extend the to 45-21. As was the case in the game against Mexico, the third quarter was again Australia’s least impressive as China outscored the Sapphires 18-15 to trim the Australian lead to 53-29. Australia hit just 3/14 from the field. China, on the other hand, benefited from some sloppy Australian turnovers, and hit 6/14 from the field.

The fourth quarter started almost as a continuation of the third. Australia connected on just one of their first eight field goal attempts, scoring just two points in the first 6 minutes of the final term as the turnovers continued to mount. Finally, almost seven minutes into the quarter, Magbegor was able to get to the line and convert on 1 of 2 free throws, before picking off a pass and finishing on the break. Simmons then dished an excellent pass to Magbegor on Australia’s next possession as the centre scored six consecutive points to make the final term look slightly more respectable from an Australian point of view. Pizzey would pick up the final points of the game to see the Australians win the final quarter 13-12, but the second half score of 30-28 in China’s favour was a far cry from the 38-11 lead Australia had established at halftime as the Sapphires came away 66-41 victors despite finishing with 24 turnovers.

Whilst the first half was clinical at times from the Australians, a repeat of tonight’s second half performance in the latter stages of the tournament would be completely unacceptable from the Sapphires. With that said, there is the talent in this side to ensure that this does not happen again, and a more polished all-round performance against France in the final game of the group stage is to be expected.

The win means that the Sapphires’ clash against France will decide top spot in Group B, as France cruised to a 65-27 victory over Mexico. The winner of Group B will have a bye to the quarter-finals, as Nigeria were unable to travel to the tournament and will automatically take up 4th position in Group A. That game will be played on Saturday night at 8:00pm (AEST) and will be live streamed on FIBA's YouTube channel.

Australia 66 (Samantha Simons 16p, 4r; Ezi Magbegor 12p, 8r; Monique Conti 9p, 2a) China 41 (Jiaqi Wang 18p, 4r, 3a; Xu Han 9p, 8r, 4b)

Box Score