The last day of the U17 World Championship 2012 started with the same situation than the days before, 30 degrees in the streets and nice atmosphere in the Zalgiris Arena. One major change though, Lithuania has qualified for the Olympic Games in London during the night. But that’s not why we traveled to the Baltic State but to follow the exciting tournament of the best U17 prospects in the world.
In the first game of the day, China managed to beat the Czech Republic after trailing in the first half by 12 points. Point Guard Zhao Ji Wei pushed his team pretty well with his 13pts, 7rebs and 6asts while Wang Zheng Bo was hot from behind the arc (4/5). For the Czech, Adam Pechacek did some scoring with his 16 points at 86% but it was not enough for his team. China finished the tournament at the 7th place.
Canada managed to reach the fifth place in the event by beating Argentina 84-79. The team from Northern America was driven by their combo guard Kevin Zabo who topped all scorers with his 26 points and 7 rebounds. Big man Tanveer Bhullar had one of his best games of the tournament with 12 points and 7 rebounds. For Argentina, Gabriel Deck was once again the man to follow with his 26 points while Alvarlo Merlo finished with 16 points and 7 assists.
Bronze Medal Game: Spain – Croatia 61 – 93
It was a different game in the beginning than those we have seen of Croatia so far as it was not Mario Hezonja who started like crazy as he missed immediately two free-throws. Nevertheless, Marko Arapovic gave his country an early lead as he scored 4 points in the first five minutes to go up 9-4. Spain could not really raise their intensity level on defense so that Croatia could manage their lead. Hezonja after a short break on the bench could score 6 quick points and Croatia remained up at the first break. The second quarter started with a great Croatian run as Tomislav Gabric hit back-to-back triples and Hezonja ran the break at perfection to go up by 13 points at the 7.30 minute mark. The timeout did not help as Ilimane Diop remained silent for the Spanish team and Agusti Sans turned the ball over too easily on the drive. Hezonja continued to attack the basket instead of just shooting the ball and increased the gap to 17 but Croatia took a timeout after Alberto Martin scored his first three-point shot. It was probably the good sign at the right moment as Hezonja and his team mates increased their defensive pressure again and ran fastbreak basketball at perfection to go up by more than 20 points. Spain did not find any solutions to break the Croatian defense until the end of the first half and the U16 European Champions from 2011 were up 42-23 at the half.
The second half started the same way than the first one ended as Croatia dominated the game easily. Spain was unable to find good offensive positions even if Diop could score here and there in the paint. But the difference remained above twenty points throughout the whole 10 minutes of the quarter. The last quarter started with the fifth foul of Arapovic that was followed though immediately by the fifth of Diop. But the main fact was an unsportsmanlike for Portalez that was followed by a Technical and a Disqualification for Alberto Abalde. Paolo Marinelli made the following 6 free-throws and the difference went up to 26 points. The game was done and Croatia won the Bronze Medal of the U17 World Championship 2012.
MVP: Mario Hezonja 23pts (7/15 FGs), 8rebs, 4asts, 3stls, 3tos
Final: USA – Australia 95-62
Australia had the quick start on a three-point shot of Nicholas Duncan but Jahlil Okafor answered with his size and technique in the paint. Dante Exum scored two great baskets on the drive but the United States insisted with Okafor in the paint to bring the score to 9-9. The Australian man-to-man defense though had problems to contain the big American in the low post who could score every time he was not doubled. However, with Okafor joining the bench, the Americans had to find other options and the big BeeJay Anya was the solution. Australia missed their shots against the American zone which was crucial at that moment. This brought the score to 22-14 in favor of the defending champions at the first quarter break.
Australia continued to shoot from outside and miss and Exum was the only one who tried to attack the basket. They changed the game speed by setting up their zone press after a successful triple and the United States immediately missed their offense. Michael Luxford gave the necessary energy from the bench and reduced the difference to six points but Justise Winslow answered with a big put-back dunk. The Australian team had no solutions whatsoever except shooting from outside and as their shots were all missing, the United States could run away behind two three-pointers by Jabary Parker. This brought the difference to 14 points at halftime where the US were up 38-24.
Australia seemed to have a different approach to start the second half as they played the drive on the first two possessions. Both were successful and Exum could score 6 quick points as he added a nice fast break dunk. But afterwards, they fell back to their threes and the USA could go back to +14. Parker added another mid-ranger and a big dunk but the Aussies tried at least to get inside options. Exum and Mirko Djeric continued to miss from outside which made it impossible for them to come back into the game. The American lead went even up to 21 points as Tyus Jones stole the ball in the passing lane and finished the break. Both teams exchanged a couple of baskets which brought the score to 64-43 before the last ten minutes.
Connor Frankamp showed his skill set at the top of the key in the beginning of the last quarter as he nailed three shots in a row from nearly the same spot. This increased the difference to 26 points and Australia took a last desperate timeout with 6 minutes remaining in the game. A quick spurt followed but it was too late so that the American team could finish the game easily and earn a high deserved Gold Medal.
MVP: Connor Frankamp 22pts (7/9 FGs), 3stls