Sapphires storm into quarter-finals with dominant win over New Zealand

The Sapphires have put New Zealand to the sword in a dominant 77-37 victory over their trans-Tasman rivals in their FIBA Under-17 World Cup Round of 16 match-up, setting up a clash with 2016 gold medal match opponents Italy in the quarter-finals.

Shyla Heal led the scoring with 22 points including 4 of 5 from deep, as the team finally found their range from deep to knock down 10 of 22 from three-point range.

The Australians jumped out of the blocks quickly, with Isabel Palmer finding her way to the basket for a lay-up on the game’s opening possession. At the other end, the stifling defence that has been a hallmark of the team’s play resulted in four New Zealand turnovers to start the contest, including a pair of shot clock violations. With Shyla Heal knocking down a trio of threes early and Gemma Potter adding one of her own off a brilliant skip pass from Palmer, the Australians were able to jump out to an early 18-2 lead before New Zealand finally called a timeout with just a pair of free throws and six turnovers to show for their first five minutes of work. The timeout may have slowed the Australians’ impressive offence, but did little to spark their own, as although they were able to limit the Sapphires to just five more points for the quarter, turnovers and some low-percentage looks saw New Zealand tally only five of their own to see Australia take a 23-7 lead into the second quarter.

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Blocks from Isobel Anstey and Alex Fowler early in the second quarter served to characterise the Sapphires’ defensive intensity, with Fowler managing to chase down Tayla Dalton on a fast break to stuff the Kiwi guard under the basket. However it would be New Zealand who scored the first four points of the term as shots failed to fall with the same regularity as the first quarter for Australia. Ruby Porter's mid-range jumper off a smart inbound play proving to be the team’s only points for the first four minutes of the term.

But with the Sapphires in lock-down mode on the defensive end, any thoughts of a New Zealand comeback were misguided at best as the Kiwis were held scoreless for the best part of four minutes across the middle portion of the second quarter. Once again the Kiwi's were forced into a timeout, trailing 27-11 midway through the term, but it was Australia who benefited most from the stoppage as the offence came out with renewed vigor. Heal found Georgia Amoore wide open for a three with a brilliant pass, helping the Sapphires to the first half on a 15-8 run which was rounded out by a pair of lay-ups from the again impressive Lily Scanlon to see the lead stretched to 40-19 at halftime.

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Both sides found themselves unable to generate a lot on offence in the opening stages of the second half, with a Charlisse Leger-Walker basket in the first minute the only points for either side in the first three minutes of play. However two quick jumpers from Heal, including a three from near the corner, set the Australians on their way in the third period. New Zealand continued to cough the ball up with regularity, and the Sapphires took full advantage. With some improved three-point shooting on show and the Kiwis unable to break down the Australian defence, the Sapphires rolled through the third quarter. They only gave up six points for the term and finished on a 12-4 run to open up a dominant 60-25 lead.

It took until the fourth quarter fort New Zealand to finally manage to keep pace with the Australians for a small stretch time to open the final period. A pass out of the post found Leger-Walker in the corner to bury a three, and although Agnes Emma-Nnopu responded with a tough hook shot from close range, a couple of turnovers from the Sapphires in the ensuing possessions stifled the offence slightly. Porter knocked down a three after gaining plenty of room for the shot with a clever fake pass to the corner to halt the slide for Australia.

Down 67-32 midway through the final term New Zealand once again called a timeout, and this time it brought about the desired result in the short-term as Leger-Walker buried a three on the team’s second possession after the stoppage, but not before Ashlee Hannan had completely stuffed an earlier attempt from Madison Hema. That three with just over four minutes to play proved to be New Zealand’s last basket until the final minute, with a 9-2 Sapphires run rounding out proceedings as a pair of steals leading to lay-ups fittingly rounded out another stellar defensive effort which proved to be the backbone of a 77-37 success.

Heal dropped 20 points in just 19 minutes on court, knocking down 4 of 5 from beyond the arc in the process to lead the Sapphires’ scoring. Scanlon finished 7 of 12 from the field to tally 16 points, while Isabel Palmer was solid as both scorer and facilitator to finish with 10 points and 7 assists. Emma-Nnopu was excellent on the boards, adding a game-high 9 rebounds alongside 8 points.

The victory results in the Sapphires booking a 2016 gold medal re-match against Italy in the quarter-finals, with the game taking place at 11:30am AEST on Friday night after the Italians defeated host nation Belarus in the Round of 16. In a game in which the winner will progress to the medal rounds, you can watch the game streamed live on The Pick and Roll’s Facebook page.

Australia 77 (Heal 20p; Scanlon 16p; Palmer 10p, 7a; Emma-Nnopu 8p, 9r) New Zealand 37 (Leger-Walker 15p, 7r; Pupuke-Robati 8p, 3r; Kailahi-Fulu 6p, 7r)

Box Score

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2018 Under 17 World Cup Schedule (all times AEST)

22 July: Australia defeated Angola 81-43 23 July: Australia defeated Latvia 60-41 24 July: Australia defeated Canada 64-48 25 July: Round of 16: Australia defeated New Zealand 77-37 27 July: Quarter-Finals: Australia vs Italy @ 11:30pm AEST 28 July: Semi-Finals/Classification Games 29 July: Gold Medal Game/Classification Games

All of the Sapphires games will be streamed LIVE on The Pick and Roll’s Facebook page.

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