The French will be without their best player, Celine Dumerc, who was forced out of the Olympics after sustaining an ankle injury just 2 days before the games commenced. The 34-year old star has been a driving forced behind France for the past decade, leading her country to silver in London, a tournament in which she was primarily responsible for the defeat of Australia in pool play.
In what was a thrilling encounter 4 years ago, France overcame the Opals 74-70 after a desperation mid-court heave from Belinda Snell sent the game into overtime.
More recently, Australia rode a 24-9 second term to defeat the French 76-67. In that game, the trio of Elizabeth Cambage, Penny Taylor and Leilani Mitchell dominated. Outside of that second period, the French were able to outscore the Opals and won two of the remaining three-quarters. While it was only an exhibition game, Dumerc and Endy Miyem featured prominently for the French, with the latter top-scoring for her side with 14 points.
Like Australia, the French have opened their campaign with two straight wins. Unlike the Opals, France worked their way to a commanding 55-39 win against Turkey. Sarah Michel came off the bench to provide 14 points, connecting on 4-of-6 from beyond the arc. Miyem also added 14 points, while captain Isabelle Yacoubou contributed 5 points with 11 rebounds.
Belarus provided an unexpected challenge, overcoming an 8 point first quarter deficit to win by just 1 point, 73-72. In a thrilling finish, Belarus edged ahead by 1 point from the line with 11 seconds to go. A frantic ending saw Miyem with the buzzer beater to steal the win. This time is was the play of Olivia Epoupa who led the way, delivering 16 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals in an all-round performance. Miyem finished with 12 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists, Yacoubou 11 points, and Valeriane Ayayi added 12 points.
Without their star Dumerc, it is hard to see how the French can topple the Opals, especially with Brendan Joyce likely to push to a high-octane contest. While the French should not be underestimated, as their wins against Turkey and Belarus demonstrate, they are not the same team that won silver 4 years ago. They can still be very dangerous on their day.
Leilani Mitchell has been outstanding for Australia, with the 31-year-old point guard the Opals’ second leading scorer behind Cambage, with 14.5 points and a team-best 4.5 assist per game. Expect to see her push the tempo along with Erin Phillips. Penny Taylor is unlikely to be quiet offensively for two straight games, and nobody has been able to stop Cambage.
With that said, stem the scoring of Miyem, and the Opals should prevail. Australia has a very deep roster and will look to run the French off their feet. If the Opals can find their outside shooting touch that deserted them against Turkey, this could end up being a blowout.
The Opals take on France on Wednesday morning at 1:15am AEST.
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