The Aon New Zealand Under 18 men’s and women’s teams have both advanced to the grand finals of the FIBA Under 17* Oceania Championships in Guam, and have consequently qualified for the Asia Championships in 2018.
Now that New Zealand is part of the FIBA Asia Zone, the top two teams in Oceania qualify for the Asia Champs, which is a FIBA World Cup Qualifier, where the top four teams will go to the FIBA Under 19 World Cup. The Under 18 Women’s Asia Championships will be in June 2018, while the men’s will be in September 2018. The host nations are yet to be announced.
Yet next year’s challenges will be a distant consideration for the young New Zealand teams as they look to tomorrow’s Oceania Grand Finals and their old foes Australia, who have dominated Pool A.
The U18 Women’s semi-final had a nervous start for the Kiwis, with Samoa surprising with an unrelenting defence and frenzied offence. After a scrappy first quarter where the New Zealanders were kept to 11 points, Samoa stepped into the break leading by 2 with 13 points.
The second quarter started with Coach Jody Cameron firing a strafe of substitutions and suddenly the New Zealanders were ignited after their first quarter shock. The ball flowing freely around the arc, while New Zealand were on springs at the defensive end. The Samoan’s must have felt like they were playing a different team in the second quarter and their frenzied pace slowed as the Kiwis hit shot after shot both from inside and outside the arc. Samoa managed a mere 6 points in the second quarter and only 4 points in the third. The fourth quarter was a more even affair as the Kiwis aggression eased, but by that time the damage was done.
Coach Cameron was succinct in her view of the game. “Credit to the Samoan team who really came out and challenged us, they had obviously done some scouting on our key players and what we do, but pleased we got there in the end.”
Canterbury’s Charlotte Whittaker had a stand out performance with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Wellington’s Leah Mafua also played a master role with her 12 points and 9 rebounds. Nelson’s Lauryn Hippolite notched 17 points, while both Charlisse Leger-Walker and Canterbury’s Tsubasa Nisbet chimed in with a handy 10 points each.
Final Score: New Zealand 81, Samoa 36.
For the semi-final between the Aon New Zealand Under 18 Men’s team and Samoa, the game started before the ball toss with both teams performing their traditional challenges – New Zealand with the Haka and Samoa with the Siva tau.
The crowd was charged, as were the undersized Samoans who were slick early, reaching a 6-4 lead. It took Palmerston North’s Oscar Oswald to stem the flow with well-timed blocks, a fast-break dunk and an early 3 pointer to take New Zealand to a 16-10 lead. Two Max de Geest 3 pointer’s followed, pushing the lead out to 22-12 with 53 seconds to go in the quarter and a much needed timeout was taken by Samoa to break the momentum. A quick 2 followed by beautiful buzzer-beating 3 point shot by Leusoge Ape would cut the lead and New Zealand would finish the first quarter ahead, 22-16.
New Zealand came out in the second with a clear strategy to shut out Leusoge Ape, who was taking advantage of any open looks. It worked and, in the first three minutes of the second quarter, New Zealand would jump out to 31-21 lead with some scoring touches from Oscar Robertson and Kruz Perrott-Hunt. Still, the Kiwis seemed unsettled and squandered a number of open opportunities. They led at halftime 42 to Samoa’s 34.
The nerves started to fray slightly as Samoa came back in the third quarter, starting with two turnovers to see Samoa within six points. However great defence from the Kiwi’s helped to pry open some more breathing space as they went on a 14-0 run, pushing the lead to 54-36.
Tama Fa’amausili and Matt O’Connell found their range and Samoa’s only defence was to take a timeout at the 5.50 minute mark, but it didn’t help. New Zealand would continue a scoring blitz keyed by their defence and win the quarter 32-8, going into the fourth quarter in control leading 74-42.
Max de Geest came out in the final quarter with three consecutive 3 pointers and a layup, pushing the lead out to 41 and the score 85-44. New Zealand continued to be dominant throughout.
Stand out performance included Canterbury’s Max de Geest (19 points), Taranaki’s Matthew O’Connell (16 points), Palmerston North’s Oscar Oswald (10 points and 12 rebounds), North Harbour’s Kruz Perrott-Hunt (10 points, 6 rebounds), and Palmerston North’s Tama Fa’amausili (11 points).
Final score: New Zealand 96, Samoa 58.
For more on the FIBA U17 Oceania Championships go to http://www.fiba.com/oceania/u17/2017
(*The New Zealand definition of age is different from FIBA. The New Zealand definition for Under 18 is ‘yet to turn the age of 18’, which is what FIBA terms as Under 17.)
For more go to www.basketball.org.nz and Basketball New Zealand’s social media channels: @BasketballNZ via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram