While the Australian Opals head to New Zealand for game 2 of the 2015 FIBA Oceania Championships with a 20 point advantage after a 61-41 game 1 win, head coach Brendan Joyce lauded his team for their defensive efforts.
"One incredible defensive effort," shared Joyce.
"It's not to be underestimated or underrated to keep a team like that to just 41 points. We did not shoot well. We had a lot of wide open three's. So our execution was pretty good."
Joyce in the huddle against the Tall Ferns
While the Opals experienced a cold shooting night, Joyce referred to some great advice he had received from some of his mentors over the years, including Colin Cadee.
"There is going to be a night in some games where you are not knocking down shots consistently. Defense will always get you through. I was really proud of how we played defensively."
Aware that every point counts in a 2-game series with a winner based on aggregate scores, Joyce acknowledged he made every effort to maintain focus right to the end.
"People probably don't understand how I am up with 10 seconds to go, or 20 seconds or 20 seconds to go. Still making sure we are focused. But you guys know we are in an 80 minute game. So the margin is so important.
"Most of us as coaches want a 3 game series. So margins are so important and we have to coach it out. A 20 point margin, and the way we played - we didn't shoot well. But defensively the girls were incredible."
In playing in front of more than 13,000 fans at Rod Laver Arena, Joyce thought it was a great opportunity for his team, and did not think that it had any influence on the Opal's shooting troubles.
"I thought we handled it really well. I didn't think anybody was scared to shoot it - that was probably the problem! They kept getting open after 8 seconds and I'm thinking ball reversal. [And they are thinking] Ah, nah, don't worry about the coach and whack!"
"Probably every fourth or fifth one we made one. It's a fine line. You're trying to give them confidence to shoot the ball, but also trying to get them to recognise that you've got to try to get it to the rack a little bit more throughout the course of the game."
The Australian Opals
With a chance to play in front of a raucous home crowd and with the game being broadcast live on free to air television, the Opals maximized their chances of receiving positive exposure, something that Joyce agreed with.
"They deserved this. There was hardly an empty seat. These girls deserve to be household names and tonight they become a household name."
"Basketball should embrace the promotion in the media. These girls deserve to be known and we are not going to hide them."
While the Opals are now undeniable favourites to secure a berth at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, the series is not yet over. Joyce was also looking forward to taking care of business in game 2 in New Zealand.
"We won by 20 at home, and we are going to get ready for the next one. We will be talking about winning the next one, and the next quarter. We will focus on how we know we are going to win, and that is defense, rebounding, and we can certainly improve our offense...and just knock down our shots."
Joyce spoke glowingly of his emerging talent at his disposal, especially given the absence of many stars who were unavailable due to WNBA commitments.
"You wonder. Deep down in my mind, I knew a lot of these girls really deserved to play well. Like [Tessa] Lavey, who's been committed and went to World's and got that experience and carried the point the whole year this year. In games against Serbia and Spain. And 'Natty' Burton, probably 25 [years old], but big's tend to mature later and she is a bit of an unknown."
"Steph Talbot is very much an unknown. Katie-Rae Ebzery, you know Rachel Jarry, you forget that she is still only 23 years old."
"I feel good that they played in front of our home crowd, our country, and everybody now knows who they are...This was the biggest crowd that they have ever played in front of."
The Opals head into game 2 full of confidence and a down payment on a ticket to Rio. If Joyce can ensure his side maintains their defensive prowess and improve on their shooting, expect to hear more about the rising stars in women's basketball and the Opals.