It was a bittersweet 24 hours for the Australian Opals just 1 week out from opening their 2018 FIBA World Cup campaign. Lauren Mansfield succumbed to injury and was replaced in side by Tessa Lavey, before going on to demolish China 84-54 in the opening game of their final warm up tournament in Spain that also features the host nation and Asian rivals Japan.
Mansfield, who played a key role off the bench in Australia’s silver medal at last year’s FIBA Asia Cup, had been battling sever plantar fasciitis that ultimately forced her to pull out of the Opals team. While it was a disappointing outcome for Mansfield, Lavey is a ready-made replacement, having played at the 2014 World Championship in which Australia won bronze medalist, and at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in which the Opals failed to medal.
“We are all so disappointed for Lauren but we know Tessa will be ready to fight and do whatever is asked of her,” said Opals head coach Sandy Brondello in an official release.
"Tessa’s athleticism, leadership and point guard ability will be a great asset for us. Her familiarity with the system and team mates will also enable a smooth transition as we move into the World Cup.”
It was the second required change in the past week, with newly crowned 2018 WNBA Champion Sami Whitcomb replacing Leilani Mitchell who was also forced to withdraw due to injury.
Lavey stepped off her plane and straight into the Opals lineup that easily dispatched China by 30 points to make it two wins in a row for the Australian's on tour following victories over Latvia and Turkey.
Liz Cambage was once again dominant, scoring the Opals first 7 points of the game before Tess Madgen scored the next 5 as the Australians opened up a 12-7 lead. Yet China fought back through an 9-0 to end the opening period, stealing a 2 point advantage at the first break.
While Australia hit back through Cambage who was proving to be a handful in the paint, China continued to find ways to score, extending their lead to 6. It was then Steph Talbot who stepped up to drain a triple to lift the Opals into another gear. Bec Allen chimed in with her first trey of the game, Alanna Smith added a three-point play and the Opals were starting to roll and back in front by 4 at half time.
Allen hit from the beyond the arc again to open proceedings in the second half, and when Cambage scored her 16th points early on, the Opals were in control and up by 7. Allen and then George fired in back-to-back three-pointers to demonstrate the Opals versatility and ability to stretch defenses. The New York Liberty star was feeling it, sinking her third triple of the period not long after finishing off a put-back to have China reeling. Ezi Magbegor completed a dominant Opals third quarter by adding 4 points late, ensuring a commanding 22 point margin.
Smith and Magbegor combined to push out the lead to 23 before China launched one final challenge. A 12-0 run by China saw them threaten to edge the margin back to single figure digits. A nice feed inside to Smith from George halted the run, effectively launching one of the Opals own. Allen was seeing the rim like it was the Grand Canyon, connecting on her 5th and then 6th three-pointers of the game. Smith joined in with a trey of her own late, ensuring the Opals prevailed by 30 points.
Allen was unconscious, going 6-of-8 from beyond the arc for a game-high 24 points. Cambage who sat out the entire last period, finished with 16 points, while Smith added 10 points, 6 rebounds and 3 steals. George played a terrific all-round game in amassing 7 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists, with Kate Ebzery also dishing out 8 assists. China's H Xu finished with 16 points and 6 rebounds.
Australia shot an impressive 11-of-23 three-pointers and 52% from the field overall compared to China's 34% shooting. As they had done in their previous two exhibition games, the Opals dominated the paint, this time out-rebounding China 45-25.
As they edge towards wrapping up their World Cup preparations, Australia next take on host nation Spain at 5am AEST Monday morning.
The Opals open their World Cup campaign against Nigeria on 22 September before taking on 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 Tessa LAVEY / Dandenong Rangers Tess MADGEN / Townsville Fire Ezi MAGBEGOR / Melbourne Boomers 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