Sapphires to play for gold after historic win over USA

Australia will play for gold at the 2016 FIBA Under 17 World Championship for Women after a historic 73-60 victory over the United States.

The Sapphires were led by Jazmin Shelley who tallied 23 points including 4/6 from beyond the arc, whilst Ezi Magbegor picked up a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Monique Conti also finished in double figures as the Sapphires’ defense and superior shooting led to the comprehensive victory.

Australian coach Shannon Seebohm ran with the same starting five that he has used throughout the tournament, with Shelley, Abby Cubillo, Jasmine Simmons, Rebecca Pizzey and Magbegor. The Sapphires quickly established a 4-0 lead with early basket to Magbegor and Simmons as the Americans took more than 3 minutes to score their first points, eventually hitting their seventh field goal attempt on a put-back to cut the lead to 2.

As the Americans struggled to hit their shots early on, the Sapphires were able to move out to a 14-5 lead, with the USA hitting just 1 of their first 13 field goal attempts. Meanwhile, the Australians connected on 6/13 as their offence clicked both in transition and in the half-court in the first quarter.

However, the Americans started hitting their shots late on in the term as a couple of turnovers cost the Sapphires. By the end of the first quarter, the United States had cut the Australian lead to 16-13, able to get a couple of transition lay-ups to gain some momentum heading into the second quarter.

Whilst the Sapphires defended immensely in the opening term, the Americans picked up 5 offensive rebounds, something the Sapphires would have to prevent in the second period as their opponents consistently crashed the boards.

Both teams missed open lay-ups early in the first period as the battle between Magbegor and the American front court would become pivotal to the game. Each side was able to disrupt their opponents around the basket, taking a Cubillo three-pointer to extend the Australian lead out to 5. The Darwin-born guard then drew a charge on what looked to be a certain transition lay-in for the Americans. Cubillo then found an opening to drive to the basket for five consecutive points to force an American timeout as the Sapphires’ starting shooting guard provided some spark for the Australians after a difficult opening to the second quarter.

The United States were able to connect on their first possession out of the timeout, but Simmons found Cubillo in the corner who drove the baseline before hitting a delicious floater. Magbegor was also starting to find her rhythm, with a couple of blocks followed by a successful trip to the foul line seeing the center put her mark on the game, tallying 10 points and 7 rebounds in the first half.

The US team continued to crash the boards and pick up offensive rebounds, collecting another 7 in the first half, which helped keep them in the hunt. The Americans could have kept it much closer had they only shot better from the free throw line, hitting just 5-11 in the first half.

As the clock wound down on the first half, Shelley hit a late three-pointer to put the Australians up 36-27, followed by some excellent defending on the final US possession ensuring that would be the halftime score. Magbegor led the Australians in both points and rebounds, with 10 and 7 respectively, while Shelley contributed 8 points and 4 assists in the opening 20 minutes. However, the real story of the first half was the Australian interior defense. Despite giving up a mountain of offensive rebounds, the intensity of the Sapphires on the defensive end was a joy to behold, and it played a large part in stifling the American shooting.

The Americans began the second half in a zone defense and it rattled the Australian offense as the US scored the first 4 points of the second half. Shelley knocked down a corner three to move the Australian lead back out to 39-31. However, the US countered with their first three-pointer of the game before another basket cut the Australian lead to three and forced a timeout from Seebohm.

Struggling to find their groove in the opening stages of the third quarter, Australia's only score of the first 4 minutes of the term was Shelley’s three pointer. Conti however then drove for a lay-up before collecting a blocked Shelley fast-break lay-up attempt to push the lead back out to 43-36 for the Sapphires.

Shortly after, Magbegor picked up her fourth foul and was forced to sit. This theoretically exacerbated the Americans’ rebounding advantage, but the Sapphires managed to scrap for a few boards and trade baskets with the US. Simmons converted a fast break to put the Australians up 50-40 and force a timeout from the US.

With the Americans pushing some ill-advised passes and Lucy Cochrane playing a brilliant game in defense with Magbegor off the court, the Sapphires used their defensive mettle as the backbone of a run that saw them take a 59-46 lead into the final quarter. Shelley’s shooting was exemplary in the third quarter, with a couple of corner threes at crucial stages really hurting the Americans’ cause.

Conti scored the first points of the final term, hitting two free throws after being fouled driving to the basket to take her personal tally to 10 and the Australian lead to 61-46. The Americans then scored four points of their own before Magbegor was reintroduced to the game to attempt to kill the game off. Despite this, the Americans were able to trim the lead to 12 as Seebohm quickly burned a timeout with 6 minutes to play to slow any potentially gathering American momentum.

Over two minutes went by before either team could score again, but that was of little consequence to the Australians, who held all the aces as the clock ticked down. But it was the US who scored next to trim the lead to 10 with 3:49 to play. Shelley quickly countered with a brilliant drive, using a screen from Magbegor to lay the ball in to go past the 20 point mark.

Magbegor fouled out on the next American possession, with Nelson-Ododa hitting both free throws on the ensuing trip to the line to keep the Americans in the contest. A shot clock violation on the Sapphires’ next possession then gave the US a chance to trim the lead to 8, but Cochrane came up huge on the boards to reel in the rebound and draw a foul from De Costa and see the US call a timeout to draw up a plan for a miracle.

Kiera Rowe put paid to any chance of that. After Shelley’s lay-up was blocked, Simmons found Rowe at the free throw line to make the score 70-58 with just 90 seconds to play. Eventually, with under a minute to play and the margin trimmed by a solitary free throw, the Americans resorted to fouling but the game was already out of their reach.

Shelley converted a pair at the line before Cubillo hit one of two to ice the game, as the Australians inflicted the United States women’s first loss in Under 17 World Championship history, with a 73-60 victory to move onto the final against Italy.

Italy will be a tough challenge for the Sapphires in the final after they defeated China 62-51 in the earlier semifinal. The match will be played on Sunday morning at 5:00am (AEST) and will be streamed live on FIBA’s YouTube Channel.

Australia 73 (Jazmin Shelley 23p, 8r, 5a; Ezi Magbegor 10p, 10r, 4b; Monique Conti 10p, 3a) United States 60 (Olivia Nelson-Ododa 17p, 10r; Aquira De Costa 12p, 8r; Janelle Bailey 10p, 11r)

Box Score