Opals book ticket to Tokyo with gritty win over Brazil
The Australian Opals have booked their ticket to the Tokyo Olympics. Their third and final qualifying game against Brazil certainly did not come easy. The loss against France and win over Puerto Rico meant the Opals were mathematically assured of a place at the Olympics, but they weren’t leaving it to chance as they took a well deserved 86-72 win over the South Americans.
The Brazilians made every attempt to impose themselves from the outset in the qualification do-or-die contest. The intensity of the back and forth affair was palpable as Brazil sought to upset the Opals on their way to the Olympics. The battle was physical from the tip as Brazil’s early defensive pressure forced Australia to play on the back foot early before settling into a rhythm in shooting and controlling. The hard-fought contest came down to composure under pressure, which the Opals were able to harness in the fourth to take the win and secure their place on the plane to Tokyo.
Though the scoring output was heavily shared between Liz Cambage, Leilani Mitchell and Bec Allen, each player made their contribution count when called upon in a united effort to keep Brazil at bay. What can only be described as a truly gallant effort saw the Opals get over the line in the fourth to send Australia through.
A couple of early fouls to Cambage saw her benched early in the first before finding her groove, finishing with a game high 29 points, 7 rebounds and 5 blocks. Mitchell proved an instrumental figure as well scoring 19 points to go along with 4 assists, while Bec Allen put in a stellar performance from beyond the 3-point arc on her way to 16 points.
Brazil’s offensive prowess well and truly on show in the form of Tainá Paixão’s quick reflexes, Damiris Dantas’ grit and determination, and Erika De Souza’s physical presence on the inside. While their ball movement and looks at the basket were crisp, their failure to score from beyond the arc forced them to play inside, finding a healthy amount of success off the pick and roll against the Opals.
Not to be outdone by their opponents, the Opals found some breathing room with composed shots throughout the game to stow Brazil’s heavy swings of momentum. A huge third quarter from Dantas saw Brazil get within one at the final break, but once again the collective composure from the Opals early in the fourth saw them re-establish their lead after scoring from Blicavs and Mitchell, followed by two blocks from Cambage on the defensive end.
The result doesn’t reflect the close nature of the game, Brazil should hold their heads high in defeat as they gave the Opals an almighty shake in the first and third quarters. The loss means Brazil will miss the Olympics for the first time since 1988, while the Opals extend their run that dates back to the bronze medal victory in Atlanta, 1996.
Cambage dominated for the third straight game, finishing the tournament with averages of 26.3 points, 11 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. Allen was once again a consistent scoring threat too, providing 16 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game while shooting the three-ball at a blistering 64.7%.
Both were named to the All-Star Five, joining Puerto Rican star Jazmon Gwathmey and French duo Bria Hartley and Sandrine Gruda, the latter earning tournament MVP honours.