In the final game of the 2019 FIBA Women’s Pre-Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the Opals have once again fallen to their arch rivals Japan.
While both sides had already booked tickets to one of the four Olympic Qualifying Tournaments in February 2020, Australia were keen to turn the tables on Japan who had come up trumps on both the 2017 and 2019 FIBA Asia Cups. Yet a three-point shooting onslaught in the first quarter put Japan on a pathway to victory, eventually prevailing 82-69.
Liz Cambage delivered 17 points and 6 rebounds before being ejected from the game after picking up her second technical foul in the fourth term, while captain Jenna O’Hea added 14 points, 4 rebounds and 7 assists in the loss.
Japan literally exploded in the opening term, at one stage draining a remarkable 8 of 10 three-pointers for the period to have the Opals firmly on the back foot. The Opals who at times employed a zone, were exposed at the perimeter, and it led to Japan amassing 30 points, taking a commanding 14 point lead at the first break.
Australia’s defensive intensity lifted to open the second, with Liz Cambage and veterans Jenna O’Hea and Bec Allen setting the tone offensively. Turning into an arm wrestle, the scoring dried up for both sides. The Opals would claw their way back to within 5 points, despite Cambage being called for an offensive foul and then followed with a technical. Cambage returned fire by getting to the free throw line and converting to narrow the margin to just 4. However on the very next play, Japan sank another three-ball, followed by another two in quick succession. They would go on a 14-5 run to close out the half, leading by 13 points.
O’Hea and Allen combined to score the first 5 points of the second half to mount another Opals challenge. When O’Hea connected from downtown for 5 straight points, Australia had once again closed to within 4. Right on cue, Japan drained another 2 three-pointers within a minute to restore control, and when they hit another to beat the three-quarter time buzzer, the margin was once again back into double-digits at 11 points.
A triple to O’Hea was a good start for the Opals, and when Cambage scored twice inside, the Opals cut the margin back to 4 again. Yet Cambage was hit with her second technical, forcing her from the game. Marianna Tolo helped pick up the slack, but Australia’s shooting when cold. Japan would capitalise at the other end, holding on for a 13 point win.
While Australia limited their turnovers to 11 for the game, Japan made them pay, converting them into 15 points while coughing up the ball just 6 times for the contest. Japan led for all bar the first 90 seconds of the game, draining 14 triples for the game compared to 8 from the Opals.
Joining Japan and Australia in progressing to the Olympic Qualifying Tournaments in February were China and Korea, with New Zealand just missing out after a tie-breaker was required to separate the three teams.