Australia were able to overcome the disappointment of their semi final loss to the USA to steamroll host nation Turkey 74-44 in the playoff for bronze at the 2014 FIBA World Championships for women in Istanbul. The Opals blitzed their outmatched opponents from the start, barnstorming they way to a 17-0 start from which they were never really threatened. It was the Opals first medal at a senior World Championships since earning gold in 2006, backing up the bronze medal won at the 2012 London Olympics.
Capping off a stellar return to the international stage was Penny Taylor who once again demonstrated her all-round versatility in delivering 13 points, 5 rebounds, 9 assists and 2 steals. For her outstanding tournament in leading Australia back to the medal dais, she was duly named to the tournament's All-Star Five.
Taylor provided the leadership and experience while Marianna Tolo and Cayla Francis provided an additional 1-2 scoring punch. Tolo produced arguably her best ever game for the Opals, compiling a game-high 21 points on 8/11 shooting to go with 6 rebounds, and in the process terrorising the Turks at both ends of the floor. Francis was just as important, combining well with Tolo to post 11 points with 5 rebounds and 3 assists.
Winning a bronze medal was a fantastic way to end a successful tournament for the Opals, especially due to the absences of sat players Lauren Jackson and Elizabeth Cambage. Their absence had many considering whether a medal was possible, yet it proved the catalyst for the emergence of the likes of Tolo, Francis and Burton.
"I think it shows how bright the future is, because so many of us are relatively young," Tolo shared after the game.
"We have other girls coming through and I think it was important for all of us to perform and make a statement that Australia can continue to be a real force for many years to come."
And make a statement they did - a 30 point roasting of Turkey on their home court.
Australia jumped their opponents from the start thanks to their trademark relentlessness defensively, forcing the Turks into missing their first 12 shot attempts of the game while sparking their transition game in the process. Turkey never seriously recovered and the Opals never let up right through to the very end, a trademark reflective of their Head Coach Brendan Joyce who was beaming after the game.
"This is my proudest moment as a coach," Joyce stated.
“To win bronze against Turkey in Turkey is a brilliant achievement and a credit to the team. What can you say about the ladies – just awesome. It was tremendous effort, focus, defence and spirit in this game and throughout the tournament.”
“We are truly a team. The unity in this team is just amazing and you combine it with the skill package, and how we want to play offensive and defensively, but that result was beyond what I could have expected."
For the Opals nearly everything went right. They shooting could have been better but defensively they were close to perfection. They pushed the USA all the way in their semi final loss; their only defeat of the tournament.
With the injection of youth and the experience obtained, the Opals will once again be challenging for gold at the Rio Olympics in 2016. For now, let's bask in the success of bronze and the Opals back on the podium where they belong.
Australia defeated Canada (Quarter Final)
Australia lost to USA 70-82 (Semi Final)