The Australian Sapphires have completed the group phase undefeated with a 64-48 win over FIBA America’s Runners up Canada.
Written by Liam Ellison.
The contest began as a back and forth affair as Canada opened strongly thanks to Sarah Te-Biasu, who hit back-to-back jumpers, including a step back long range two.
It didn’t take long for Shyla Heal to respond for Australia, driving to the bucket to scoop in a tough layup. Heal continued to create problems for Canada off the dribble, later drawing a foul on another blow by drive to the bucket. The Australian Co-Captain went 2-2 from the line to draw the two team’s level at 8-8 midway through the first.
Canada’s height caused problems for Australia on the glass as they led the rebounding battle early. Isobel Anstey stepped up for the Sapphires though, with 5 first quarter boards, including 3 offensive.
The Sapphires steadied as Shyla Heal continued to shine in the latter half of the period. The gritty guard showcased her smooth offensive skills with a step back jumper that gave the lead back to the Australians. On the very next play Heal shot off a perfect cross court pass to set up Lily Scanlon who was running the break. The Sapphires finished the first period leading 15-10.
The Canadian’s started the second quarter with a bang as Te-Biasu hit a deep three to bring her team within two. The Canadians continued to worry the Sapphires on the glass, however the Australian’s began to run away with the game after a three from Lily Scanlon lifted the Sapphires to a 17-24 lead. The Sapphires then scored the next 6 points, highlighted by another impressive blow by layup from the nimble Shyla Heal.
The Canadians called a time out to steady the ship, and after two threes from Merissah Russell the Sapphires’ lead had been cut back to nine. Isobel Anstey continued to trouble the Canadians in the paint, as she managed an offensive rebound and put-back bucket to give the Australian’s a 15 point lead.
The Sapphires went into the halftime break leading by 16 with Heal (14 points), Scanlon (13 points) and Anstey (6 rebounds) some of the key contributors.
In a relatively slow start to the third period for both teams, Gemma Potter brought the Sapphires to life with a tough finish in traffic to give the Australian’s a 20 point lead for the first time in the contest.
Canada had begun to clue onto Shyla Heal’s quick moves to the bucket as Merissah Russell swatted away the Perth Lynx signee’s layup attempt. The Canadian’s increased focus on defence after the half time break begun to result in easy offence as Aaliyah Edwards’ steal and lay-in brought the margin back to 15.
Soon after, Georgia Amoore drove to the basket, executing a perfect pass to Eliza Hollingsworth for the easy two. The Sapphires appeared to have regained control when Lily Scanlon converted on a baseline floater to give the Sapphires a 52-34 lead. Two late three throws brought the margin back to 16 for Canada. For the Sapphires Lily Scanlon had been putting on a clinic, having scored 17 points on 7-8 shooting through three quarters.
Scanlon continued her onslaught in the fourth period, opening up with another three pointer to take her personal tally to 20. However Canada refused to let the Sapphires off easy, as Merissah Russell hit a morale lifting three as the shot clock expired. Russell then converted on a fast break lay-up while drawing the foul in the process. The Canadian star converted on the free-throw to score her 17th point and give the Canadian’s a hint of hope as they trailed by 13 with just over five minutes remaining.
However from that point onwards the Sapphires began to lock the game down by allowing Canada only two more points for the game. When Nnenna Agnes Emma-Nnopu stole the ball and dished it off to Scanlon for a fast break layup, the victory was secured for the Sapphires who eventually ran out 64 – 48 winners.
Lily Scanlon finished the contest as top scorer, with 22 points on 9-13 shooting while Shyla Heal finished with 16 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists. Isobel Anstey’s intensity on the glass and on the defensive end was vital for the Sapphires, as she registered 5 offensive rebounds on her way to 12 boards while also getting 3 steals and a block.
The Sapphires managed to finish on top of Group D with a perfect 3-0 record, meaning they will now play local rivals New Zealand in the round of 16 as the Kiwi’s finished at the bottom of Group C.
Details of the Sapphires’ next match-up are yet to be announced. Stay tuned to the Basketball Australia Twitter feed for the details.