Australia made it two straight wins at the 2018 FIBA World Cup in Tenerife, Spain as they coasted to an 84-43 victory against an outclassed Argentina.
The Opals were clear right from the outset; get the ball to Liz Cambage and it paid dividends. The 6'8 superstar centre scored a game-high 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting with 6 rebounds in just 17 minutes, and with the result never in doubt, allowing head coach Sandy Brondello the luxury to rest the Opals centerpiece.
Unlike the opening win against Nigeria, Cambage did not play a lone hand. Having been added to the team as an injury replacement for Leilani Mitchell, Sami Whitcomb proved to be one of the most dangerous players in the contest. The 2018 WNBA champion compiled 16 points including 3 three-pointers with 4 rebounds and 5 assists in a complete performance in her best game for the Opals to date, while rising star Ezi Magbegor added 14 points and 8 rebounds off the bench.
Such was Cambage's dominance from the outset, she scored the first 10 points of the game and drew three fouls against an overwhelmed Argentinean front line who struggled to find a way to contain her. Included in her early haul was a lovely reverse lay-up that had her defender stuck to the floor like a statue, while she also handled the ball confidently in leading the transition before hitting a pull-up jumper from the free throw line.
Argentina finally found the scoreboard through a transition triple, but combined with some solid defense from the Opals, their offense looked impotent. Cambage gave up an offensive foul, but the Opals forced a 24-second shot clock violation at the other end to get the ball straight back. Turnovers however were starting to mount for the Opals in an otherwise dominant first term. When Sami Whitcomb flew in from the weak side for the put-back on a rare Cambage miss, she became the first Australian to score not named Cambage.
With Cambage taking a well-earned break, the Australians began to run the ball and looked good in doing it. Magebegor ran the floor well to finish in transition, and when Talbot scored on the next play, it forced Argentina to call for time trailing 3-16. Yet Whitcomb found the bottom of the net from downtown after forcing the steal at the other end to maintain the Aussie momentum. A soft call against Tess Madgen saw Argentina finally break their scoring drought, making one of two from the line.
Argentina reverted to full court press late in the opening term and it paid immediate dividend, forcing the Opals into a turnover. A travel by Magbegor on the next possession saw the Opals rack up their seventh turnover of the period. However Argentina failed to capitalise, with the Australians leading 21-5 at the end of the first period.
Macarena Rosset scored via a tough jumper over the outstretched hands of Magbegor to open the second term. Yet Rebecca Allen dialed long distance courtesy of Madgen feed in transition in an immediate response. After picking up two early fouls, Bunton stepped-back for two from the elbow, and when she scored again soon after on a nice seal inside, the Opals had continued to pull away to a 30-7 advantage.
Argentina's shot selection and execution was extremely poor, exemplified when George swatted away am ambitious drive. However one area the Argentinean offense looked dangerous was when they drove through the middle, but it did not happen often enough.
Having sat out more than 10 straight minutes, Cambage re-entered the game and made an immediate impact via a tough off-balance jumper from the elbow. She continued to draw fouls almost at will as her opponents struggled to keep her out of the paint or stay in front of her off the dribble.
Whitcomb was enjoying playing for the Opals, scoring on a beautiful dribble drive and finish in transition. A converted three-point play to Cambage was then followed by some terrific ball movement by the Aussies, ending with Whitcomb making the extra pass George who drained the wide open three-pointer from the wing for a 27 point lead at half time.
Despite the first half dominance, turnovers where the one glaring area for improvement, with the Opals committing 12.
Things looked even more ominous for Argentina when Cambage scored the first basket of the second half. However three triples from Argentina, of which he last two went unanswered, saw Sandy Brondello call a timeout to regroup her charges. Argentina continued to fire from beyond the arc following the short break, but without any more success as the scoring dried up from both teams.
Brondello went back to her bench, and it was the combination of Smith to Whitcomb for a timely trey that reignited the Opals offense. On the next possession, Cambage backed her way down in the block one-out to score easily. When Cambage was replaced by Magbegor, the pace of the game stepped up to a new level, with Whitcomb feeding the young star in transition for the nice score going left.
Australia continued to push the ball at every opportunity while Cambage rested and it was paying off. Madgen was pushing the tempt, making a nice play inside to find a slashing Smith who scored and was fouled, finishing off a three-point play.
Defensively, the Opals tightened the screws and closed off every Argentinean scoring opportunity, while Whitcomb was one of the most dangerous players on the court. She chased down one of her own three-point misses before draining her second attempt on the same possession from the corner to have the Opals bench rise as one behind her. Madgen would close out the quarter with a strong drive and pull-up for two to push the margin out to 44 points at the final break, ensure the Opals remained in total control.
Argentina hit a three through Debora Gonzalez to break an 8 minute scoring drought early in the final period. At the other end, Smith was involved in almost every play for the Opals, trailing the play for a three-pointer from the top of the key in scoring 5 straight points as the Opals threatened to push the lead out to 50. However their opponents never gave up, scoring on their next three possessions, resulting in Brondello calling a timeout in an attempt to stem their run.
Rosset drained her third trey late in the game for Argentina as the game meandered its way to a conclusion, with the Opals eventually prevailing 84-43.
Australia was simply dominant in the paint, pulling down 23 more rebounds while outscoring Argentina by 36 points. A 48-18 advantage in points off the bench also demonstrated their depth, despite missing their Captain Jenna O'Hea who is recovering from a niggling injury and missing for the second straight game.
While Cambage was the clear standout, Australia had contributors everywhere, with Lavey the only player not to score. Whitcomb displayed her class and Magbegor reminded everyone the future was now, while the Opals also received great supply from Alanna Smith (10 points). Best for Argentina as Rosset who added 13 points and 3 rebounds.
Now 2-0, Australia will enjoy a rest day before returning to close out Group B play with a contest against Turkey on Tuesday night (8:30pm AEST), with the game broadcast live on Fox Sports. Nigeria upset Turkey in their clash, so the European nation who finished fourth behind the bronzed Aussies in 2014 win be desperate to win and keep their slim quarter-final hopes alive. A win by the Opals will guarantee first place and direct qualification for the quarter-finals on Friday.
Opals World Cup Schedule (all times AEST)
22-Sep: defeated Nigeria 86-68 23-Sep: defeated Argentina 84-43 25-Sep: vs Turkey @ 8:30pm 26-Sep: Quarter-Final Qualifications 28-Sep: Quarter-Finals 29-Sep: Semi-Finals 30-Sep: Finals