Liz Cambage suited up and played for the first time in an exhibition game on tour as the Opals took care of Turkey 73-56 in the build up to the 2018 FIBA World Cup that tips off in Tenerife, Spain in a little over a week.
Cambage was devastating. The same day she was named All-WNBA First Team, the 6'8 centre amassed 23 points and 8 rebounds in leading the Opals to victory.
After a close first half, the Opals tightened the defensive screws to restrict Turkey to just 19 second half points, outscoring their opponents by 16. With Cambage injected into the lineup, Australia dominated the paint. They out-rebounded Turkey 42-22 while scoring 14 more points inside the key.
However it was not all smooth sailing for the Opals as it was the home side that controlled the first quarter. Turkey and Cambage traded scores early, with the latter connecting on a three-pointer for the Opals first 5 points inside the first two minutes. Both sides would then struggle to find the bottom of the net, and would not score again until inside the final 5 minutes of the term. Alanna Smith scored on back-to-back possessions to try to kick-start the Opals offense and tie the scores at 9-all. Turkey scored 6 points straight late in term, but the Opals caught fire from beyond the arc, but despite triples from O'Hea and then Bec Allen, the home side led by 2 at the first break.
Australia forced Turkey into a 24 second shot clock violation and Alex Bunton scored 5 consecutive points as the visitors wrestled back the lead. Tess Madgen's triple in response to one by the home side ignited a min-run that edged the visitors ahead by 6 points. Steph Talbot was active at both ends of the floor, managing to keep the Opals ahead on the scoreboard. Turkey continued to frustrate the Australians, and despite 4 quick points to Cambage late, trailed by just 1 at half time.
The third period belonged to Australia. Talbot and Kate Ebzery combined for the first 5 points before Turkey's Cora drained a deep three. The Opals depth and versatility was starting to shine through, with a multitude of scoring options starting to take its toll on their opponents, with Talbot's trey pushing the margin out to 9. Smith and Cambage were working well in tandem and had the Opals in a position to blow out the game. Yet Turkey refused to give up, hanging tough to trail by 11 heading into the final quarter.
Allen and Smith combined for 6 points in a mini-run to push the margin to 16 early in the final period. However turnovers and missed open looks conspired against the Opals from blowing out the game, with ample room for improvement ahead of the World Cup next week. Cambage would close the game out in total command, scoring the final 6 points to ensure a 17 point win.
Australia shot a very good 51% from inside the arc, but misfired from beyond it, connecting on 6-of-19 three-point from long-distance. With newly crowned 2018 WNBA Champion Sami Whitcomb of the Seattle Storm set to join the team within the next few days as an injury replacement for Leilani Mitchell, she is sure to provide immediate scoring potency from three-point territory.
While Cambage was the star, Talbot added 13 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists, with Smith contributing 10 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists.
The have now played three games on tour, including a loss to France before accounting for Latvia in Paris. They next head to Spain where they will take on China, Asian rivals Japan and then hosts Spain in finalising their World Cup preparations.
Brondello will be keen to quickly add Whitcomb into the mix before opening their World Cup campaign against Nigeria on 22 September. The Opals also will tackle Argentina and Turkey in the group stage, with every game broadcast live on Fox Sports Australia.
Australian Opals for 2018 FIBA World Cup
Rebecca ALLEN / New York Liberty Alexandra BUNTON / Sydney Uni Flames Elizabeth CAMBAGE / Dallas Wings Katie-Rae EBZERY / Perth Lynx Cayla GEORGE / Dallas Wings Tess MADGEN / Townsville Fire Ezi MAGBEGOR / Melbourne Boomers Lauren MANSFIELD / Perth Lynx Jenna O’HEA / Melbourne Boomers Alanna SMITH / Stanford University Stephanie TALBOT / Phoenix Mercury Sami WHITCOMB / Seattle Storm
Opals World Cup Schedule (all times AEST)
22-Sep: vs Nigeria @ 10:30pm 23-Sep: vs Argentina @ 8:00pm 25-Sep: vs Turkey @ 10:30pm 26-Sep: Quarter-Final Qualifications 28-Sep: Quarter-Finals 29-Sep: Semi-Finals 30-Sep: Finals