The Australian Sapphires’ hopes of winning back-to-back gold medals at the U-17 World Championships has ended at the hands of the French on Saturday night.
Written by Liam Ellison.
France prevailed 68-58 after trailing by as much as 15 points at one point. Isobel Palmer top-scored for the Sapphires with 17 points.
Throughout the tournament the Australian’s had enjoyed an advantage in the paint and on the boards. However the length and athleticism of the French proved a new challenge for the Sapphires, as they had their work cut out defending the versatile French line-ups.
The two teams traded threes to start the game as Isobel Palmer hit her first three points. The Sapphires looked uncertain with the ball as they turned the ball over five times within the first 5 minutes. Despite this, the Australian’s managed to hold an early 10-9 lead after Palmer hit her second three. Palmer came out firing in this contest and as she soon her third three, all of which were in the first period. Palmer’s play meant that Shannon Seebohm was compelled to keep her on the court. As a result Heal, Scanlon and Palmer all saw court time together in what was a rare line-up for the Sapphires.
Palmer finished the period with 11 points as the Australian’s went into the second quarter with a 19-11 lead.
The Sapphires’ quality shooting continued in the second as Scanlon hit a three of her own. The Australian’s were struggling to look after the ball but their quality shooting from beyond the arc kept the scoreboard ticking over as the Sapphires began to build a lead. Scanlon then converted on an and-one lay-up to bring the lead out to a commanding, 27-15.
A timeout steadied France momentarily before Isobel Anstey and Nnenna Agnes Emma-Nnopu began to wrestle control in the paint. Emma-Nnopu hit the final bucket of the half to bring the margin out to 36-21. The Sapphires had dominated the rebounding 34-17 while they had shot the ball at a far higher clip. Shooting at 44% compared to the French’s 22%.
However, in the second half, the French began to convert from the field, hitting two early threes to swing the momentum. The French began to turn their first-half weaknesses into their strengths as they secured 5 offensive boards within just 3 minutes of the second half. Midway through the quarter, the French had cut the Australian’s lead to just 5 as the score sat at 37-32.
Coach Seebohm was forced to call a time-out to steady his team, but the break did not stop the French as they completed at 17-1 run, taking the lead back in just 7 minutes. With just over two minutes remaining in the period, Shyla Heal finally got the Sapphires’ back on the scoreboard with two free-throws.
After a late three to the French from Kendra Chery, the French finished the period with a 43-41 lead, thanks to a dominant 22-5 quarter.
The intensity stepped up another notch in the last period as both teams locked down on defence. Shyla Heal opened the quarter by managing to find a gap in the French defence to glide to the bucket for a tough lay-up. The two teams continued to trade baskets before Georgia Amoore converted on a three to tie the game at 46 apiece.
It seemed as though every time the Sapphires would score, the French would find an answer in order to hold onto their small lead. The French eventually worked their way out to a 7 point lead and when the Sapphires succumbed to a shot clock violation with just 4 minutes left, Coach Seebohm was forced to call a time-out. The Sapphires came out firing after the timeout with Emma-Nnopu stealing the ball in the paint to drop it in for two. When Palmer hit another three a few moments later, the margin was cut back to just two.
However, the French soon went on a run of their own, with two threes from Wadoux and Fathoux proving fatal for Australia, as they trailed by 8 with just one minute remaining.
Shannon Seebohm called another time-out to rally his troops for one final comeback. Shyla Heal hit a three straight out of the time-out to restore hope for the Sapphires but the Australian’s were unable to come up with the stop on the other end.
An unsportsmanlike foul from Georgia Amoore confirmed the result for France, as the eventually ran out 68-58 winners.
Isobel Palmer managed to score 17 for Australia on 5-8 shooting from three while Lily Scanlon managed 12 points. Shyla Heal was once again an all-around contributor with 11 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. Turnovers were an issue for the Australian’s all night as they turned it over 24 times compared to France’s 10.
The Sapphires will now have to dust themselves off and set their sights on a Bronze medal match against Hungary at 1am Monday AEST. The game will be live-streamed on FIBA’s YouTube channel.