2018 FIBA World Cup Group B Primer
The FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup tips off on Sept. 22. Get to know a little bit about teams in Group B, featuring Argentina, Australia, Nigeria and Turkey.
While Argentina and Nigeria should field competitive teams, anyone who follows women’s basketball knows that the battle for the top spot in this group will be between Australia and Turkey. Mark your calendar for the Australia vs. Turkey clash on Sept. 25 (6:30 a.m. EDT) as it should be one of the preliminary round’s top games to see. Further fuel to add to the fire of winning that game is the fact that the No. 1 seed out of each group gets a pass to the quarterfinals. The second-place finisher from Group B, should it defeat No. 3 out of Group A in the quarterfinal qualification on Sept. 26, and should the USA finish atop its group, would face the unenviable task of playing the USA in the quarterfinals.
Ranked No. 15 in the world and No. 5 in the Americas, Argentina, which has never qualified for the Olympics, has seen action in eight FIBA World Cups, most recently in 2010. After competing in four World Cups from 1953-1971, Argentina failed to qualify again until 1998, then made four-straight appearances at the event. Argentina’s best finish took place in the inaugural World Cup when it placed sixth. Since then, the Argentina National Teams have come in between ninth and 14th places.
The USA owns an all-time record of 3-0 versus Argentina in World Cup play, facing the South American team in 1953, 1957 and 1971.
Argentina earned the silver medal at the 2017 FIBA AmeriCup to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. During that tournament, the hosts rolled through their first five games undefeated, but were halted by Canada 67-65 in the gold medal game.
Melisa Gretter, a 5-foot-6 point guard, led Argentina with 13.2 points and 3.5 assists, while adding 5.3 rebounds a game during the 2017 competition. Argentina was further aided by 6-foot-1 center Agostina Burani’s 7.8 ppg. and team-high 7.8 rpg., as well as 6-foot small forward Andrea Boquete’s 10.0 ppg. and 4.7 rpg.
Ranked No. 4 in the world and No. 1 in Asia, 2006 World Cup gold medalist Australia has been one of the USA’s top threats since the turn of the century. In addition to its 2006 gold, Australia claimed a pair of World Cup bronze medals, three Olympic silver medals and one Olympic bronze medal since 2000.
Against Australia in World Cup play, the United States is a perfect 10-0 and last met the Aussies at the 2014 World Cup, where it came away with an 82-70 semifinal victory.
Previously Australia and New Zealand played a three-game series to determine which nation would qualify out of Oceania to a world competition. FIBA recently merged Oceania into the Asia qualifying process, and in its first Asia Championship the Opals were represented by a few national team veterans and a number of younger newcomers. The Aussies earned five wins to open the competition, including a nine-point, 84-73 win over Japan in preliminary play, before dropping the gold medal game to Japan, 74-73.
Naturalized in 2015, Kelsey Griffin, a 6-foot-2 forward who was an All-American at University of Nebraska and played four seasons for the Connecticut Suns (2010-13), was Australia’s top scorer (15.8 ppg.) and rebounder (8.2 rpg.) at the 2017 Asia Championship, where she was named MVP.
Australia recently named a 20-member pool upon which its 2018 medal hopes lie. Seven of the 12 athletes who competed in the 2017 Asia Championship, including Griffin, are among the 20 finalists. Among those seven, 6-foot-3 forward Allana Smith (10.8 ppg., 5.3 rpg.), who turns 22 next month and plays for Stanford University, was the next biggest contributor after Griffin.
The biggest names on the preliminary roster for Australia currently compete in the WNBA, headlined by 6-foot-8 center Liz Cambage of the Dallas Wings. Holder of the WNBA single-game record for points scored after knocking down 53 against the Liberty (7/17/18), Cambage is averaging 22.8 ppg., 9.7 rpg. and 1.7 bpg. (through 8/16/18) and is central to Australia’s medal hopes.
A 5-foot-5 guard who starred at the University of Utah and one of three Australia naturalized citizens on the finalists roster, Leilani Mitchell suits up for the Australia head coach Sandy Brondello-led Phoenix Mercury. In her 10th season in the league, Mitchell, who has a bronze medal from the 2014 World Cup, is averaging 4.4 ppg. and 2.3 rpg. (through 8/16/18) this season.
The other three Australian athletes in the WNBA, none of whom have seen significant playing time this season, include New York’s Rebecca Allen, a 6-foot-2 guard in her fourth year with the Liberty, Seattle’s 5-foot-10 guard Sami Whitcomb, who is in her second year in the league, and 6-foot-4 center Cayla George, a third-year player currently with the Dallas Wings.
Ranked No. 34 in the world and No. 5 in Africa, Nigeria has previously qualified for the 2006 World Cup, where it finished last with an 0-5 mark, and the 2004 Olympics, where it finished in 11th place with a 1-5 record. Nigeria captured the 2017 FIBA Africa Championship gold medal with an 8-0 sweep to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
The USA defeated Nigeria 79-46 at the 2006 World Cup, the only time these two teams have met at the senior level.
Nigeria’s top two scorers in 2017 were power forward Osaretin Akhator, who averaged 15.3 ppg. and 9.5 rpg., and 5-foot-8 guard Ezinne Kalu, who averaged 11.6 ppg., 2.6 rpg. and 3.0 apg.
Turkey is ranked No. 7 in the world and No. 4 in Europe, and finished fourth at the 2014 World Cup. Turkey has only recently emerged as one of the top teams on the international stage, having participated in two Olympic Games (2012 and 2016) and one FIBA World Cup (2014) in its federation’s history. The Turks advanced as far as the quarterfinals in both their Olympic outings and fell to Australia in the 2014 World Cup bronze medal game.
Turkey qualified for its second World Cup by virtue of a fifth-place finish at the 2017 European Championship, where it finished with a 5-1 mark, its lone loss coming to Greece in the quarterfinals.
The USA and Turkey have met just once in senior level competition, when the U.S. collected an 89-58 victory in the 2012 Olympics.
Turkey in 2017 was led by the one-two punch of 5-foot-7 point guard Isil Alben and 6-foot-5 center Quanitra Hollingsworth, a naturalized citizen who played collegiately at Virginia Commonwealth University and in the WNBA for Minnesota (2009-10), New York (2011), Washington (2013) and Seattle (2015). Hollingsworth led Turkey in scoring and rebounding at the 2017 European Championship with 17.7 ppg. and 9.3 rpg., while Alben topped the assists with 4.5 apg., while adding 10.3 ppg. Turkey’s third threat in 2017 came from Tugce Canitez, a 6-foot-3 power forward, who averaged 7.2 ppg. and 6.5 rpg.