Sapphires reach quarter-finals with win over France

Australia have qualified at the top of their group rafter a 55-48 win over France in their final round robin game at the FIBA U17 Women’s World Championship.

Jasmine Simmons led the way for Australia in delivering 13 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 steals, whilst Abby Cubillo also finished in double figures with 11 points.

The Sapphires got on the board in their first possession via a lay-up from Jasmine Simmons, but from there the scoring was slow for both sides. A lay-up from Abby Cubillo took the score to 4-0, before quick baskets to Jazmin Shelley, Simmons, and Ezi Magbegor forced France into a timeout after four minutes with the Sapphires leading 10-0.

With France reluctant to shoot from the perimeter, the Sapphires’ height advantage made times tough for their opponents, whose attempts to attack the basket were repeatedly stifled by the much taller Australian side.

France finally got on the board in the seventh minute of the first term as Shelley committed a foul to send Sissoko to the line, who made both to open her side’s account. Bretagne made it 10-4 with a lay-up, albeit nearly a minute and a half later, forcing Sapphires’ coach Shannon Seebohm to call his first timeout of the game.

Shelley made the undoubted play of the game late in the first quarter. With the shot clock winding down, and players from both sides scrambling to gain possession, the ball squirted out to Cubillo in the right corner. Cubillo drove the baseline and kicked to Shelley, who launched it despite facing away from the basket, draining the unlikely three-pointer to extend the Sapphires’ lead to 15-4.

Some late free throws to end the first quarter followed by a baseline jumper as time expired allowed France to regain some of that margin, and at the end of the first quarter Australia’s lead had been cut to 15-10.

France also opened the scoring in the second quarter with a mid-range jumper to cut the Australian lead to 3, but an Magbegor lay-up off a Cassidy McLean assist restored the 5 point margin. On Australia’s very next possession, Magbegor made almost the same cut to the basket, this time with Simmons finding her for another right hand lay-up to take the score to 19-12, before McLean added a pair of free throws to extend the lead to 9.

With turnovers, especially travels, from both sides stifling the offensive output, it was a low scoring start to the second quarter. When a basket did finally come, it was the French side hitting from beyond the arc to close the margin to 6 at the midway point of the quarter. But despite their best efforts, France were unable to close the margin any further as the Australians pushed the lead out to 10, forcing French coach Cathy Melain to call a timeout with 3:46 to play in the half.

Whatever Melain said to her side in that timeout, it certainly worked as the French side quickly closed within 3 points of the Australians, using their speed to drive to the basket and finish with aplomb. A Cubillo lay-up with 4 seconds to play proved to be the last scoring play of the half and saw the Australians go in at halftime leading 27-22. Neither team shot the ball particularly well in the first half, with the Sapphires shooting 39% and France just 31%.

The second half began well for the Sapphires as Magbegor made the first basket of the term off an assist from Simmons. But two quick fouls for the Australian center, one at each end, saw her get into foul trouble for the second consecutive game and she was forced to sit with four fouls.

Some poor offensive possessions for the Australians coupled with the French side finding their range saw the Australian lead once again cut down, this time to a single point midway through the third quarter. From there, though, the Australians went on a 10-0 run throughout the final four minutes to the quarter, coinciding with the entry of Miela Goodchild into the game. The Queenslander had not been used in the first half, but injected some much-needed energy into the Australian side just when it looked like France were ready to take the game from the Sapphires. Simmons was the main protagonist on the score sheet though, scoring five of Australia’s final ten points of the quarter to take her total to 11 through three-quarters as the Sapphires took a 41-30 lead into the final term.

In what had been a low-scoring affair throughout, it was unsurprising to see that the first point of the final term did not come until almost two minutes in as Kiera Rowe converted one of two free throws after being fouled going up for a basket. France countered with a single made free throw of their own before a three pointer reduced the Australian lead to 8 with seven minutes to play. Monique Conti quickly put paid to that, stealing the ball in the French back court for the easy lay-up, before drawing an offensive foul on the ensuing French possession.

After sitting for nearly the entire third quarter, Magbegor came back into the game with just under 7 minutes to play but lasted only 30 seconds before committing her fifth and final foul on an attempted block under the basket, finishing with 8 points and 5 rebounds in 16 minutes of play. The Sapphires were undeterred though, hitting a couple of quick baskets and forcing France into a timeout with the game in danger of getting away from them at 48-35 with five minutes remaining.

Following the timeout, the French side did manage to make inroads into the Australian lead, with the scoreline reading 50-40 with 2:30 to play as Seebohm took a timeout as France found their groove as they had done following their third quarter timeout. But a Shelley steal and lay-up shortly afterwards followed by a slicing move to the basket by Conti which resulted in one of two made free throws put the Sapphires up 11 with just over a minute to play, ending the game as a contest. France scored the last four points of the game, but Australia would run out 55-48 victors.

Surprisingly, against a much shorter team, the Sapphires were out-rebounded 41-34, but forced 31 turnovers to 20 and shot at 36% in comparison to France's 31% clip for the game.

The result sees the Sapphires progress through to the knockout stages as the top team in Group B. Due to Nigeria’s non-participation in the tournament, Australia have a bye through to the quarter-finals, where they will play the winner of the game between the third placed team in Group C and the second placed team in Group D. That game will be played on Wednesday night at a time yet to be advised, and will be streamed live on FIBA’s YouTube channel.

Australia 55 (Jasmine Simmons 13p, 9r, 5a, 4s; Abby Cubillo 11p; Jazmin Shelley 9p, 3s) France 48 (Kadiatou Sissoko 9p, 5r; Naomi Mbandu 9p, 3r, 4s; Emmanuelle Tahane 9p, 5r, 3s)

Box Score