04 July 2016
AUSTRALIAN SAPPHIRES WIN HISTORIC GOLD MEDAL AT U17 WORLD CHAMPS
The Jayco Australian Sapphires are gold medallists at the Under-17 FIBA World Championships after defeating Italy 62-38 in the final to finish the tournament undefeated.
Having never finished better than 5th at the Under-17 Worlds, Australia completed the 2016 tournament with an average winning margin of 23 points.
The Jayco Australian Sapphires amazing performance was rewarded as Monique Conti, Ezi Magbegor and captain Jasmine Simmons were all named in the All-Star five while Magbegor earned a deserved tournament MVP.
The Australian centre averaged 12.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.9 blocks and a steal per game while shooting 54% from the field and 86% from the free-throw line as the team's anchor at the defensive end.
The team defence the Sapphires had showcased all week was just as impressive in the gold medal game, holding Italy to 26% shooting while they recorded 24 points less their tournament average.
Only one player reached double-figures on the scoreboard for the opposition and Sara Madera, the team's leading scorer with 12 points per game, tallied just two points on 1-8 shooting.
"I couldn't be prouder of my team," said Sapphires coach Shannon Seebohm.
"When we got together for our camp to select the team, we talked about being the best defensive team in the world and really committing to that side of the ball and I could not have imagined it to go any better.
"It's an unbelievable feeling. I can see a lot of our girls playing for the Opals one day."
If the Italians were not aware of Australia's suffocating defence coming into the clash, they would have taken notice very quickly when they started 1-12 from the field to find themselves trailing by double-digits midway through the first term.
Following a time-out, they were able to settle into the contest and a couple of timely shots cut the margin to five at quarter-time.
Lorela Cubaj was the difference for the Italians with her size in the paint able to match Magbegor's height and her four blocks helped the Europeans get as close as one point in the second period.
Keira Rowe (five points) answered with a three-pointer though and Australia moved into a full-court press to place the pressure back on their opponents.
Monique Conti's transition offence and speed up the floor saw the Sapphires respond with 14 straight points to end the half in what proved to be a game-defining run.
Tezenis Verona nailed a couple of big three-pointers for Italy out of the main break as they attempted a comeback but Australia was able to answer every time with Miela Goodchild and Conti draining three's to put the game beyond doubt.
Conti finished with a game-high 18 points to go with six rebounds and three steals while Simmons (14 points, 12 rebounds, three steals) and Magbegor (13 points, nine boards, three blocks) joined her in double-figure scoring.