Victoria win 3 of 4 golds at U20 and Ivor Burge Championships

A collection of Australia’s finest Under 20 and intellectual disability basketballers produced a cavalcade of excitement in Canberra as the Under 20 and Ivor Burge Championships delivered moments for the ages, with two of the grand finals producing scarcely believable finishes.

Victoria secured three of the four gold medals on offer, with only a miraculous comeback from South Australia in the Ivor Burge Men’s gold medal game preventing the team in navy from completing a clean sweep.

Under 20 Men

A tournament filled with high-level talent and palpitation-inducing finishes to games made for a thrilling week in the Under 20 Men’s tournament. From a 73-70 win for South Australia over ACT to open the tournament to Josh Giddey’s game-winner in the gold medal game, every day brought more excitement.

New South Wales earned the title of ‘Cardiac Kids’ with a succession of thrilling games, beginning with a defensive stand in a 75-72 win over Queensland in the group stage. Blocks from Archie Woodhill and Zak Simons bookended a steal from Hawaii-bound Biwali Bayles in the final minute as Bayles coupled an outstanding defensive effort with 27 points to help his team over the line for a vital win. Bayles would continue to deliver in the clutch with a miraculous three to send NSW’s quarter-final against South Australia to overtime despite trailing by as many as 14 early in the fourth quarter. Bayles would finish that game with 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists as the team in sky blue earned a rematch with Queensland in the semi-finals.

It would be there that New South Wales’ luck finally ran out, though. A 17-point loss to their arch rivals sent them into a bronze medal playoff against a Tasmanian side that had played a thriller of their own earlier in the tournament with a 92-90 quarter-final win over Victoria A in which Taran Armstrong dropped 37 points. The battle between Armstrong and Bayles was the chief storyline of the game, with both finishing with 28 points. However, the symmetry did Bayles no favours, as the New South Wales star’s final shot of the tournament bounced away to see Tasmania escape with an 83-82 win and the bronze medal.

Meanwhile, Victoria rolled through the group stage, only dropping a game to an NBA Global Academy side that would finish the tournament after the group stage, leaving the eight Australian teams to battle out the knockout rounds. Victoria continued to dominate in the knockout rounds, with a Luke Travers-less Western Australia side no match for the favourites, and Tasmania falling to a second defeat to the same opponent in the semi-finals. Meanwhile, Queensland put their thrilling defeat to New South Wales behind them to knock off the same opponent in the semi-finals and advance to the final, with Tamuri Wigness and Blake Jones leading the way.

Victoria blew Queensland out of the water with a 35-23 opening term, but Queensland slowly came back from a deficit that at one stage early in the second quarter sat at 18, eventually leading 72-70 with a quarter to play. The teams would trade blows like prize-fighters down the stretch, with both sides reeling off mini-runs before being pegged back. Blake Jones, the star of the tournament for Queensland, capped a 24-point, 12-rebound performance with a game-tying basket to leave the scores at 90-90 in the final seconds and the ball in Josh Giddey’s hands.

Just about everyone in the AIS Basketball and Netball Hall knew what was coming as Giddey set up. The inevitable three only caught the rim, but the star point guard followed his shot to grab the long rebound and immediately put up a midrange jumper. It swished through the net as the buzzer sounded, sending the Victorian team into raptures as Queensland were left to wonder what might have been.

Jones’ outstanding grand final performance rounded out a week that saw the Queenslander named Bob Staunton Medallist as Player of the Tournament. The big man averaged 19.4 points and 12.4 rebounds per game, finishing third for scoring and top of the rebounding charts for the entire tournament. Jones also finished the tournament shooting a 50/40/90 of a different type – 54% from three-point land, 44% from the field, and 91% from the charity stripe.

Under 20 Women

Victoria continued to dominate the Under 20 Women’s competition with a second consecutive undefeated tournament, with a run of gold medals dating back to 2011 interrupted only by…Victoria Navy, in 2016.

New South Wales perhaps came closest to knocking off the Victorians on the opening morning, coming within four points deep in the fourth quarter before Victoria pulled away in the final minutes on their way to a 14-point win that would set them up for the rest of the tournament. Aside from a brief stutter in the first half against South Australia, the Victorians were rarely troubled and rolled into the final against Queensland.

Queensland themselves perhaps came in under the radar, but a first-up win over Victoria A set them on their way. Coming into Wednesday night’s game against New South Wales, a win would secure a gold medal game for the team in maroon. Despite letting a 9-point gap shrink to just one late in the piece, the Queenslander's managed to hold off their arch-rivals with a 70-67 win courtesy of contributions across the board, which became emblematic of the Queensland team. With star point guard Nefertali Notoa in foul trouble, Audrey Fuller – younger sister of 2019 star Adelaide – stood up with 10 points as Georgia Woolley, Catherine MacGregor, and Grace Ellis also finished in double figures.

However the Victorians proved far too strong in the final. Led by 20 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists from Gemma Potter, the team in navy failed to let a second-quarter slip faze them, taking a 37-23 lead into halftime and steadily increasing that margin after halftime. Queensland added some respectability to the scoreline in the final term, but Victoria were hardly troubled, securing a 69-56 victory. However, once again Queensland’s ability to find points from various sources shone through, with Notoa, Woolley, MacGregor, and Ellis all scoring in double figures.

Victorian coach Hannah Lowe was effusive in her praise for her charges, particularly given a less-than-ideal build-up to the tournament.

“It’s a fantastic group – I feel really privileged to coach a group of girls who are that talented,” Lowe said. “We had a really short preparation, which makes it hard for us to put together an extensive playbook, but I think with that limited preparation, the girls did really well – they executed on the day, under pressure and all-in-all it was an excellent week.

“They were impressive on and off the court; every team faces adversity throughout a tournament week, but we as the week wore on, we found ways to grow as a group.

“I’ve been an assistant coach a few times and this was my first as head coach and I’ve really been looking forward to this opportunity – it’s an amazing feeling to be a head coach of a team like this.”

Victoria A started the week behind the eight ball with a first-morning loss to Queensland, but rebounded with victory over South Australia later that same day. Expected wins over Tasmania and Western Australia – the former in a tighter match than they would have hoped – followed, setting up a bronze-medal battle with New South Wales. Having been beaten by 23 the previous day, Victoria A jumped out to an 18-0 lead inside 8 minutes, and followed that up with a 24-7 third quarter on their way to an 85-58 win to see Victorian teams take two medals from the Under 20 Women’s competition. Kayla Salmons and Keeley Evans were instrumental throughout the week for the young team, with both averaging in excess of 11 points and 7 rebounds, and Evans finishing 2nd for the tournament in rebounding with 8.3 per game.

New South Wales and South Australia each came in with high expectations, but ultimately failed to produce when it really mattered. The team in sky blue looked the goods in their narrow loss to Victoria, but a 70-67 loss to Queensland doomed their gold medal prospects. Despite bouncing back with a win over Victoria A the next day, New South Wales failed to repeat the dose in the medal rounds, as a team that had looked good for a tilt at gold just two days prior finished out of the medals. However, with a number of bottom-aged players, including Isabelle Morgan and Kitty Henderson, leading the way, 2021 has potential to be another shot at a medal for New South Wales.

Meanwhile, South Australia had a major spanner jammed in the works with the loss of star centre Kelsey Rees due to injury. Despite the presence of players such as Ruby Porter, Gabriella Vidmar, and hot-shooting Ambah Kowcun, the loss of Rees proved too big a hurdle to overcome. Coming up agonisingly short against Queensland and New South Wales – games they may have won with Rees in the lineup – South Australia found themselves eventually slipping into the fifth-place playoff, where they were knocked off 69-60 by a Tasmanian side they had defeated by 20 on Thursday morning. Having been led by Shelby Rayner and Sharn Hayward for most of the week, Tasmania found an unlikely top-scorer in Georgia Harding, who poured in 16 on 5 of 9 shooting after tallying just 36 points across the previous six games.

Bronze medallists in 2019, Western Australia returned just one player – Jesni Cooper – from that side, and it showed as the team in black and gold finished winless with several heavy defeats. However, with a number of bottom-age players now with a year of experience under their belts, a more successful tournament will hopefully loom in 2021 for Western Australia.

Gemma Potter led home a strong field in the chase for the Bob Staunton Medal, with the five-time age group national champion rounding out her career as a Victorian youth representative in the best way possible. Potter finished the round robin stage averaging 15.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game before putting together that outstanding performance in the final.

Ivor Burge Men

As has become customary, Japan once again joined the Ivor Burge tournament, and with two South Australian teams entering, the eight teams were split into two groups of four. South Australia A and Victoria quickly emerged as the favourites to progress through to the decider from either side of the draw as group winners, whilst Tasmania and Japan finished in second place in their respective groups.

However, with all eight teams progressing to the quarter-finals, there was still plenty of time for things to change. ACT snared a win in the quarter-finals over Tasmania, and with Japan also reaching the semi-finals but being ineligible for a medal, the team from the national capital guaranteed themselves a medal alongside Victoria and South Australia, who dominated New South Wales and South Australia B in their own quarter-finals.

As expected, Victoria and South Australia progressed into the final with wins over ACT and Japan respectively, and with five minutes to go in the gold medal match, the engraver was just about preparing to etch Victoria’s name into the trophy with the scoreboard reading 74-61. What followed was utter bedlam. A 13-2 run put South Australia within two with 28 seconds to play, but an unsportsmanlike foul saw Victoria go up four with possession after a perfect trip to the line from Ryan Briggs. South Australia managed to pick off a pass and rush up court for a lay-up, and then somehow, Keenan Georg-Dent stole the inbounds pass and was fouled with just two seconds to play. Georg-Dent kept his cool at the line to drain both free throws and send the game to a highly improbable overtime. South Australia quickly opened up a lead in an overtime period that saw 32 points scored, and although Ivor Burge Medallist Jake De La Motte rounded out a 47-point game with a late three, South Australia were left celebrating a 98-90 win and the unlikeliest of gold medals.

De La Motte’s 47-point game rounded out a tournament that saw the Victorian star average 38.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.8 assists that rightfully saw him secure yet another Ivor Burge Medal as Player of the Tournament.

Ivor Burge Women

From the outset, it became clear that the likely grand finalists would come from the same states as 2019 as New South Wales and Victoria set themselves apart from the remainder of the field. Victoria, hellbent on securing gold after falling to New South Wales in the 2019 final, won their four pool games by an average of 62 points despite only knocking off their major rivals by 2 points. Meanwhile, despite that loss to Victoria, New South Wales finished with a points differential of +141 before defeating ACT in the preliminary final to set up a rematch with the Vics in the final.

The final started as a close affair, but once the Victorians put their foot down, it became clear that they would have their revenge for last year’s final defeat. A 23-2 third quarter turned a 5-point halftime lead into a 26-point Victorian advantage, and despite 22 points from Brittany Anderson, New South Wales just couldn’t keep pace as Victoria rolled to a 76-53 win as five players finished in double figures, with Kate Zonneveld, Jessica McCullough, and Kaitlyn Papworth each securing double-doubles.

Victorian coach Simon Robinson was delighted to have achieved redemption after last year’s silver medal finish.

“We’re very happy to obvious avenge last year where we felt that we didn’t play as well as we possibly could,” Robinson said.

“New South Wales is a very strong team and they always test us – they tested us on Friday morning in the rounds and that was quite a close one, so it was good to control things early, get to an early lead and then consolidate and build on it.

“Victoria is a very strong and very deep team and generally we feel that if we can keep doing what we do best over four quarters, eventually we’ll be able to wear anyone down and get the win.

“The ladies are fantastic – with the Ivor Burge competition there’s no age limit, so a lot of the girls are coming back for multiple tournaments so you get a chance to build some fairly strong relationships with them.

“It’s delightful to coach this group; last year they were very disappointed obviously, so to win this one it’s quite a good feeling.”

Western Australia secured the bronze medal with a 51-34 victory over ACT in the third-place playoff, with Rhonda Williams posting 26 points, 18 rebounds, and an incredible 12 steals. Williams finished the tournament averaging 28.2 points, 14 rebounds, and 7.2 steals, unsurprisingly picking up the Ivor Burge Medal as player of the tournament after leading the way in all three categories.