Olympics: Sloppy Opals survive Turkish scare

Erin Phillips vs Turkey | Credit FIBA via Basketball Australia

It wasn’t pretty, but the Opals got the job done.

In a performance that was unconvincing of their number-two ranked status, Australia were composed late and defeated Turkey, 61-56, to go 2-0 to begin the Games.

The Opals were sloppy throughout the entire contest. Turkey’s determined defense forced Australia to connect on just 37 per cent of their field goal attempts. Australia struggled to replicate their excellent shooting performance in the second half against Brazil, as the Opals could only muster a 6-of-24 effort from beyond the three-point line.

“I think they would have shocked Australia a little bit,” Opals legend Lauren Jackson said about the Turkish performance after the game on Channel 7’s broadcast.

Liz Cambage led the Aussies in the scoring department, finishing with 22 points and 11 rebounds, shooting 9-of-16 from the field and 4-of-5 from the free-throw line. This came despite battling foul trouble throughout the game and a slow start.

The Turkish sent multiple defenders to Cambage when she received the ball near the basket, which led to her struggling to convert down low to begin the game.

Cambage finished the opening half with just five points and three rebounds, shooting 2-of-5 from the field. Her frustration on the defensive end – whether it was with the officials, her teammates or herself – was visible.

Whenever Cambage seemed to get into an offensive flow, she would pick up a foul at the most impromptu time. Coach Brendan Joyce took no risks, taking Cambage out of the game whenever foul trouble persisted, which led to her playing just under 23 minutes. Her presence on the court was clear, as Australia was a +14 with Cambage on the floor during the game.

“Liz has to be smart about how she uses those fouls,” Jackson said.

Leilani Mitchell and Katie-Rae Ebzery were the only other Opals to score in double figures, both contributing 11 points.

Mitchell seemed to hit a big shot whenever the Opals needed one, including a three-pointer with 5:30 remaining in the final quarter to give Australia a 55-47 lead. Ebzery led a dominant second unit, as the Aussies outscored Turkey’s bench, 21-0.

Penny Taylor and Erin Phillips both grappled with their own shooting woes. Taylor scored just five points, shooting 1-of-7 from the floor, while Phillips was held scoreless, missing all five of her field goal attempts.

Marianna Tolo also battled with foul trouble throughout the game.

Whenever Australia threatened to pull away, Turkey fought back, in an admirable performance. Turkey’s dribble penetration, especially off pick and rolls, gave the Opals defense fits, as the Turkish got pretty much whatever they wanted at the rim all game long.

Turkey were led by Lara Sanders, who was the game’s leading scorer with 25 points.

For the second consecutive game, the Opals got off to a slow start.

In a defensive battle throughout the first few minutes, the Opals finally got on the board at the 6:47 mark of the opening quarter, through a Cambage and-one.

Australia struggled to get into any sort of offensive rhythm in the first quarter. After getting out to a 7-2 lead mid-way through the period, it seemed as if the Opals might pull away. However, Turkey finished the quarter on a 13-5 run, using swarming defence and solid ball movement to lead 15-12 after the opening period and get the Opals out of whack.

It was concerning to see the Opals have another slow start. Turkey didn’t make them pay, but one can only imagine what a better team would do against a passive Opals side. The Opals offense began the second quarter in a more pleasing way.

“Australia is moving the ball so well at the moment and it’s paying off. They’re getting wide open three-pointers, which is right up their ally,” Jackson said.

The Opals were unable to capitalise on their clean looks though, connecting on just 4-of-18 from beyond the three-point line in the first half. Turkey’s tenacious defense was a big reason why the Opals were shooting so many outside shots. The Turkish were resolute to keep Australia away from the rim and it worked in the first half, as the Opals had just 10 points in the paint.

In comparison, Turkey attempted just two three-pointers in the first half, missing them both. Instead, it was their aggressiveness going towards the basket that had Australia on their heels defensively during the opening 20 minutes.

“Turkey is giving the Opals a little grief – making them play unlike the Australians and taking them out of their game,” Jackson said.

Taylor was held scoreless in the first half, shooting 0-of-4 from the field – all of which were three-point attempts. The two leading scorers in the first half for the Opals came off the bench, as Tessa Lavey and Ebzery both contributed six points. In fact, it was the bench that kept the Opals in the game in the first half, outscoring the Turkish 14-0.

The foul count also got under Australia’s nerve in the first half. The Opals were called for the first eight fouls of the game. Turkey’s first foul came with 5:50 remaining in the second quarter, leading to an ironic cheer from the Australian bench and their fans.

The Opals came out of the locker room with a purpose, as they started to get into the paint, which subsequently, opened up their outside shot attempts.

The change coincided with a more focused Cambage, who started aggressively attacking the rim, even with Turkey constantly sending more than one defender to her. Jackson noted on the Channel 7 telecast that Cambage needs to play with a belligerent mindset, as nobody can stop her going to the basket.

As soon as the Opals play suggested they would pull away, as they went on an 11-2 run midway through the third period, the Turkish came back.

Once Cambage came out after picking up her third foul, Turkey’s defence went into lock down mode again, as Australia failed to take full advantage of their good early work in the period.

It wouldn’t matter in the end, as Australia kept their cool in the final quarter, escaping with the victory.

The Opals will look to go 3-0 in Rio, when they take on France on Wednesday morning, at 1:15am.

Box Score | Highlights

Luke Sicari

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Writer, producer at 1116 SEN | Media assistant at the West Coast Eagles | Sport Journalism Student at La Trobe

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