Spain eliminate Australia in FIBA U17 World Championships Quarterfinals

The Australian U17 men’s team will not win a medal at the 2016 FIBA U17 World Championships, after bowing out of the tournament in a 73-64 quarterfinal loss to Spain.

After reaching the final of the competition in their last two appearances, Australia couldn’t recreate the magic of prior years, and will now settle for a classification 5-8 match-up against Canada, at 12:45am on Saturday morning. Australia lost to Canada in their opening game of the competition.

Sam Froling continued his impressive tourney, as he doubled-up with 12 points and 13 rebounds in the loss, while shooting 5-of-7 from the field. Froling is averaging 9.8 rebounds per game in the championships, which is tied for sixth best in the competition.

Tom Fullarton, Australia’s leading scorer, put up 16 points and nine rebounds, connecting on 6-of-14 from the field. Fullarton’s 15.6 points per game is the 11th best in the competition, as he and Froling further cemented themselves as Australia’s top prospects among this group.

Dragan Elkaz couldn’t follow up his 25 point, eight rebound effort in Australia’s past game, as the Sydney-native shot just 1-of-10, good for a mere five points. Patrick Bines had 13 rebounds, in the only other notable effort for the Aussies.

For the Spaniards, Sergi Martinez was fantastic, top scoring with 26 points, along with nine rebounds and four steals. Miguel Gonzalez was the only other double-digit scorer, finishing with 11, but he hit on just 4-of-13 of his shot attempts.

It was a story of inefficiency for Australia, as they shot just 38.0 percent from the field, while Spain connected on a much cleaner 45.3 percent. In an interesting quirk, Australia out-rebounded Spain 56-32, including a 19-5 edge on the offensive glass, but despite the distinct advantage, the Aussies inability to effectively capitalise on their chances was their ultimate downfall.

Australia’s sloppiness also didn’t help, as they committed 24 turnovers, which turned into 23 Spanish points. Spain bullied Australia down low, holding a 50-30 edge in points in the paint.

It was a mighty offensive struggle for both teams in the first quarter, as Spain shot 4-of-18 from the field, with Australia not much better, connecting on 4-of-15 of their shots. A combination of some slow and stagnant offense, along with some rushed and out of control offense, led to a 10 minutes that won’t be included in an instructional basketball video.

The Australian turnover problem was prevalent from the opening minutes. Australia committed eight first quarter turnovers, while Spain racked up six steals, as sloppy ball handling saw the Aussies trail 11-9 after the opening quarter.

In what was sure to frustrate coach Mark Watkins, Australia opened the second quarter with a turnover on their first offensive possession, as Callum Dalton’s pass was deflected and picked off.

However, both teams got into a better offensive flow in the second term, as consecutive three-pointers from Spain’s Joel Parra and Elkaz seemed to open up the floodgates for both sides.

Froling starting to control the ballgame, scored six points in the opening 5:10 of the second quarter, as Australia took a 24-20 lead. The Aussies cut down on their turnovers, while crashing the offensive glass and creating better looks with ball and player movement. Defensively, Spain was being forced into poor, long-range jumpshots, as Australia started to build some momentum.

The Aussies continued their solid second quarter, going on an 18-8 run, resulting in a 31-24 lead with just 1:50 remaining before half time. However, Australia struggled to close out the half strongly, as two turnovers in the final minute lead to four Spanish points, which helped them close the gap to just 33-30 at half time.

Australia is sure to look back at that final 1:50 and wonder what might have been if they managed to close out the quarter adequately.

Watkins must have felt a sense of déjà vu to open up the second half, as a moving screen from Elkaz resulted in a turnover, as another chance to score went begging for the Aussies. After just two minutes of the third quarter, Australia had four turnovers, including a five-second violation, continuing their trend of turning the ball over in almost every way possible.

With 4:43 left in the third quarter, Australia were still in control, leading 38-34. An adjusted defensive attack, which consisted of a soft 1-2-2 zone, which eventuated into a man-on-man, and aggressively, trapping the ball handler, had Spain baffled. As was the case for most of the game though, Australia couldn’t build a comfortable lead with all their hard work.

The final few moments of the third quarter were decisive. After a Kody Stattmann three-pointer put the Aussies up 47-40 with just 1:17 left in the quarter, it seemed as if an upset was becoming a reality. However, as was the case in the second quarter, Australia once again failed to protect their lead in the final minute. A three-pointer buried from Martinez at the buzzer tied the game at 47 at the end of the third term, giving Spain all the momentum heading into the final 10 minutes.

When Martinez slammed home his 20th point of the game, to give Spain a 54-49 lead with just over eight minutes remaining, it became clear Australia’s prior missed opportunities would come back to cost them.

A Stattmann three-pointer mid-way through the final term ended a 16-2 Spanish run, but the damage had already been done, as the host nation had built a lead they wouldn’t surrender. Despite the Aussies getting the lead down to three with just 3:22 remaining, a late charge from the Spaniards was enough, with Australia left punching themselves over the numerous wasted chances throughout the ballgame.

Australia 64 (Froling 12p, 13r; Fullarton 16p, 9r; Bines 13r)

Spain 73 (Martinez 26p, 9r, 4s; Gonzalez 11p, 8r; Busquets 9p, 5r)