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France beat Mali to close in on basketball World Cup quarters

SYDNEY (AFP) – Gabby Williams produced a stellar all-round performance yesterday as France moved closer to a quarter-final berth at the women’s basketball World Cup with a 74-59 victory over Mali in Sydney.

France began as strong favourites, but started slowly and were rattled by an aggressive Mali.

WNBA player Williams scored 14 points, with seven rebounds and six assists and help from Alexia Chartereau’s 12 points as France took their win-loss record to 2-1 in Pool B.

France failed to recapture the form shown in their stunning day one upset over hosts Australia, but regrouped after crashing to Canada on Friday.

“It was a difficult game. Our rebounding was really, really weak,” said France coach Jean-Aime Toupane.

“We need to improve our physicality over the next two games.”

Winless Mali were uncompetitive against Japan and hosts Australia, notably struggling offensively, but 20-year-old power forward Sika Kone (18 points, 18 rebounds) dominated around the basket to trouble France.

“Our defence was good but we made mistakes (offensively) and France took advantage,” said Kone, who was selected by New York Liberty in the WNBA Draft earlier this year.

Mali’s physicality spurred them to a surprising 21-17 lead after the first quarter.

A hot shooting Chartereau refocused France, who turned the tide with better ball movement to take a 42-32 advantage into half-time.

France threatened to pull away in the third quarter but couldn’t shake a gritty Mali, who produced their best performance of the event so far.

Mali sensed a major upset when they cut France’s lead to 65-57 midway through the final quarter before Sarah Michel’s three-pointer in the right corner snuffed out the challenge.

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