Written by Liam Ellison.
Shyla Heal scored her first bucket for the Sapphires on the first possession of the game with a sweet step-back two. From there the Australian’s didn’t let up, getting out to an 11-0 lead to start the game before Latvia finally got their first basket with three minutes remaining in the first. Due to the Sapphires stifling defence, the Latvian’s could manage only 2 points for the entire first period, meaning the Australians would end the quarter with a commanding 13-point lead.
The Latvian’s shook off their shooting woes in the second quarter with Evelina Fricsone knocking down a long range two. Although things did improve for the Latvian’s, they could manage just 21.7% shooting for the contest with no players reaching double digits in scoring.
The Sapphires also struggled offensively in the second, managing only ten points for the period. Agnes Emma-Nnopu had to sit after being called for her third foul. Agnes Emma-Nnopu had been dominating the paint for Australia, managing 9 rebounds in only 16 minutes, her absence lifted the Latvian team who had struggled defending the paint throughout the contest. Shyla Heal and Alexander Fowler began to stand out as the lone sharp shooters in the contest, with both Heal and Fowler knocking down four points in the second period. Heal and Fowler were the only two players in the game who shot over 50% from the field, with Heal knocking down 8-12 and Fowler 5-8.
The Sapphires started the second half with a 25-11 lead in what had been a low scoring, scrappy contest. However, the third period saw the Australian’s offense finally take off. Isobel Anstey began to keep the scorer’s table busy, amassing all of her 8 points in the third period. Taking advantage of her height and length, Anstey grabbed an offensive rebound straight out of the half time break and laid it back in for two. Her size proved an issue for the opposition throughout the quarter as she shot right over the top of a defender to give Australia a 31-13 lead. It was Anstey again who provided a highlight play for Australia when she blocked Una Steinharde’s three-point attempt and took the ball on a fast break all the way for an easy two.
As both sides continued to struggle shooting the ball from range, it was the Sapphires strong defence and ability to score in the paint that allowed the Australian’s to continue to build on their lead. Both teams had combined to shoot 0-30 from three before Latvia finally hit the first three of the game with a minute remaining in the third period. The two teams struggled from downtown all night and finished the game with a combined 5-50 from the arc. Despite the Sapphires shooting woes they had managed to enter the last period with a commanding 21-point lead.
As the last quarter began the Australian’s began to hit from downtown themselves as Heal and Amoore knocked down two triples early in the fourth. However, a couple of poor turnovers from the Sapphires allowed Latvia to chip away at the Australian lead. The Sapphires put the Latvian’s into the bonus with four minutes remaining, allowing the opposition to eventually win the last quarter, bringing the final score to 60-41 in the Australian’s favour.
Australian co-captain Shyla Jade Heal looked a step above for the Sapphires scoring 17 points on 66.7% shooting while also securing a double-double with 11 rebounds. Once again Heal was active on the defensive end registering 2 steals and a block. Alexander Fowler was the only other player in double digits with 11.
The Sapphires will look to increase their offensive efficiency in their next game after shooting just 34.8% from the field and committing 17 turnovers.
Find the box score here.
The Sapphires next game is against Group D rivals Canada. The FIBA America’s Runners up are also undefeated so far in their group phase match-ups.
Catch the game on FIBA’s livestream at 11:00pm AEST here.