Olympics: Sloppy Opals eliminated by Serbia as team rue missed opportunities

Credit: FIBA.com
Credit: FIBA.com

Credit: FIBA.com

The 2016 Rio Olympic dream is over the Australian Women’s National Basketball Team after being defeated in the quarter final by Serbia 73-71.

Australia will be staring at one obvious column in the box score as the Opals turnovers throughout the contest played a major role in deciding the result.

The Opals turned the ball over a whopping 26 times (to Serbia’s nine), which resulted in their opposition scoring multiple transition baskets, most notably in the fourth quarter.

“Containment was a big issue, throwing the ball away was a big issue,” Australian captain Penny Taylor explained post game.

“We just couldn’t find enough answers towards the end.”

Elizabeth Cambage was magnificent throughout the contest, despite once again finding herself in foul trouble late in the game, finishing with 29 points and 11 rebounds.

Cambage was a driving force in the latter stages of the game; the Opals targeting her on offence on the low block as she continued to create trouble for the Serbia defence.

“Liz dominated inside, when we got the ball to her towards the end,” Taylor spoke post game.

With Cambage taking a heavy burden of the offence, it was Australia’s defence that also struggled to contain Serbia at various times of the game.

Ana Dabovic finished with 24 points and three assists, while Jelena Milovanovic recorded 17 points.

Australia started the game in a much better fashion than they had previously throughout the group stage, with Cambage leading the early charge.

Locked in from tip-off, Cambage asked questions of the Serbia interior defence on nearly every possession down the floor, as the Opals looked to her at every possible occasion.

An aggressive Cambage inside opened up great looks on the perimeter which saw Erin Phillips (10 points, 4 assists) and Rachel Jarry (14 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists) catch fire. With Penny Taylor having an enforced break due to foul trouble, Jarry slotted right in knocking down three triples in the first half as well as dishing off three assists.

With Australia finding their shooting touch, it was their ball handling that proved costly. Uncommon mistakes from the Opals allowed Serbia to create easy transition points at the other end, which kept the opposition in touch for the majority of the first half.

13 first half turnovers was the main concern for coach Brendan Joyce, as well as finding a way to contain Ana Dabovic, who had her mid-range jumper locked in for 15 points and three steals.

Joyce and the Opals dodged a slight bullet when Sonja Petrovic went down with a suspected shoulder injury, as her eight points, two rebounds and two assists in just under 15 minutes was also causing some trouble. Thankfully for her sake she made a swift return for the start of the second half.

Jarry was rewarded for her first half efforts, replacing Phillips in the line-up to start the second half. She didn’t disappoint either, scoring Australia’s first three points in a scrappy start to the half as the Opals stormed out to an eight point lead.

Leilani Mitchell then started to heat up, knocking down a pair of three pointers to extend the lead to as much as eight points.

However, the Opals careless play allowed Serbia right back into the game and before the third quarter ended they had claimed their first lead of the game at 51-50.

Australia wrestled back the lead in what ended the third stanza as a back and forth, with neither team really entering the fourth with momentum.

The start of the final quarter didn’t go the way of the Opals though, backcourt turnovers to Mitchell and Jarry allowing Serbia to work up a head of steam to claim back the lead.

When the game was heavily in the balance and the scores locked at 58, Australia coughed up the ball for their 23rd and 24th turnover as Serbia capitalised with four quick points.

Cambage re-entered the game after fourth quarter foul trouble and went straight back to work in the paint. Four straight points under the hoop gave the Opals a 70-69 lead, before hitting the floor hard under heavy contact.

Serbia followed that up by reclaiming the lead, followed by a pair of free throws being split for a two point lead; allowing 10 seconds for Australia to have their chance to tie or win the game.

A strong defensive effort from their opposition though ensured Leilani Mitchell picked up her dribbled and forced to heave something she didn’t plan on – allowing Serbia to escape with a two point victory.

The Australian Opals now end the tournament with a 5-1 record, as Serbia advance to face the winner of Spain and Turkey.

Box Score | Highlights

Steve Chalmers

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One of #TeamPnR's Social Media Managers, with a typically Melbournian love of sports. NBL yapper, Orlando Magic die-hard, make sure you're always supporting our favourite game!

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