The Australian Sapphires have advanced to the Semi-Finals after defeating Italy 64-46 in the Quarter Finals on Friday night.
Written by Liam Ellison.
Shyla Heal starred with 19 points and 7 rebounds to further her MVP chances while Nnenna Agnes Emma-Nnopu registered a double-double for the Sapphires.
The Australian’s set the tone early with a dominant start to the game. Gemma Potter began by driving hard to the bucket on two occasions for four quick points. Shyla Heal soon continued her sharpshooting from the previous game as her long-range two fell, to give the Sapphires a 10-0 start to the game.
The defence of the Shannon Seebohm’s side was once again on full display, as the Sapphires forced the Italian’s into multiple turnovers within the first five minutes.
Through six minutes the Italians had still not scored, as the Sapphires continued to pressure the Italian ball handlers. However, the Italians began to fight back quickly as they went on a 7-0 run, capitalised by an Illaria Panzera three to bring the margin back to just five.
However, Shyla Heal soon fired back with a quick reply as she drained a corner three to steady her side. The Sapphires’ began to lock down on the Italians with their full court press. The defence looked to be effective as they forced the Italian’s into moving the ball dangerously down the sideline, forcing another couple of turnovers.
Despite the Italian’s continued struggles, they managed to steady as they closed the quarter on a lucky three from Marta Rossini that banked in off the glass. The Sapphires went into the break leading 21-14.
Despite a couple of careless early turnovers from the Sapphires, the Australian’s continued to build on their lead as both Fowler and Hollingsworth rolled to the basket for easy buckets, before Shyla Heal hit her second three of the contest to bring the margin back out to 14.
After a couple of calls went against the Sapphires Illaria Panzera hit her second three of the game for Italy to bring the margin back to just six. Shannon Seebohm’s side then became careless with the ball momentarily, as Lily Scanlon committed another turnover, eventually resulting in a free-throw for the Italians, bringing the score to 28-23. Soon after, Isobel Anstey committed an unsportsmanlike foul, again sending Italy to the line. With the lead cut to just four, for the first time in the contest, the Sapphires looked rattled.
However, the Australian’s managed to steady themselves, going into the main break with a six-point lead. The Aussie big’s had dominated the glass through one half of basketball, leading the rebounding 25-11 with the Sapphires managing 8 offensive boards. Shyla Heal led the way for the Sapphires with 8 points while Italian star Illaria Panzera led the contest with 9 points.
Nnenna Agnes Emma-Nnopu opened the second half quickly with two strong drives to the bucket. The Sapphires opened the quarter on a 9-0 run. Soon after, three Sapphires players converged on Illaria Panzera to come up with a steal, in a play that was a representation of the Sapphires suffocating defence all tournament.
The 3rd period was a low scoring affair with the Sapphires winning the quarter 10-9, however, the feeling in the game was that the Australian’s had the momentum as they entered the last quarter with a 7 point lead.
After Gemma Potter hit two free-throws to begin the last period, the Sapphires turned the ball over twice with a couple of ill-advised passes that resulted in Italian fast breaks and in turn, forcing coach Seebohm to call a timeout. This did not slow down the Italian’s however, as they looked invigorated after the timeout, forcing the Sapphires into a shot clock violation.
It was a combination of the Sapphires intense defence and the dynamo pair of Shyla Heal and Lily Scanlon on the offensive end that once again proved the difference for the Australian’s. The Sapphires were facing their first potential close game of the tournament and they were looking to their star co-captain to come up with some big plays. Shyla Heal did just that, scoring 6 quick points before dishing off an assist to Lily Scanlon who drained an important three to boost the Sapphires out to an unassailable lead of 17 with just two minutes remaining. From there the Sapphires cruised to a 64-46 win.
Shyla Heal was once again outstanding for the Sapphires. The Australian co-captain played a game-high 37 minutes, scoring 19 points to go along with 7 rebounds and 3 assists. Heal once again staked her claim for the tournament’s MVP award. Another MVP candidate in Lily Scanlon had a quieter game by her lofty standards, dropping 9 points. Nnenna Agnes Emma-Nnopu was also instrumental with a double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds.
For Italy, Illaria Panzera was again impressive with 14 points, 7 assists and 6 boards.
The Sapphires are now into the Semi-Finals where they will play France on Sunday at 1am AEST. Shannon Seebohm’s side are shaping as a massive chance to defend their gold medal from the 2016 tournament.