Opals bounce back to edge Latvia in Paris
Australia have accounted for Latvia 77-70 in Paris as their preparations continue to build ahead of the 2018 FIBA World Cup for Women tipping off on 22 September in Tenerife, Spain.
The Opals bounced back from their difficult opening tour loss to world number three France, finishing strongly with a 27-19 final term to record a 7 point win. With Liz Cambage not suiting up for the second straight game, Alex Bunton grasped her opportunity to compile an impressive double-double, compiling 15 points and 14 rebounds as one of three Opals to score in double figure
Coach Sandy Brondello adjusted her starting lineup from the opening tour game, replacing Alanna Smith with Ezi Magbegor to opening alongside Rebecca Allen, Cayla George, Jenna O'Hea and Kate Ebzery. Allen has made a habit of scoring first in quarters on tour and this game proved no different, as the Opals defense forced Latvia in missed opportunities. A triple from Ebzery saw the Opals open up an 8-0 lead. Anete Steinberga halted the run with two free throws for Latvia, and from there the scoring dried up from both teams. Smith would score Australia's next two baskets to maintain an 8 points lead, but Kitija Laksa caught fire briefly for Latvia to keep them in touch, but Australia still led 18-12 at the first break.
A free throw from George was the only score in the first three and a half minutes of the second term before Magbegor and then Steinberger broke the field goal drought. Scoring was not coming easy for either side, but it was Allen who broke through with a much-needed triple following Bunton's offensive rebound, to push the margin out to 11 points in the Opals favour. Yet Latvia finally managed to string some baskets together, with Steinberga and Gunta Basko getting hot. Bunton scored her eighth points of the game to keep the Opals moving, but Latvia drained a three just before half time to close the margin to just 3.
Bunton scored first in the third period, with George following up soon after with a basket of her own. Latvia continued to match the Opals basket for basket, and when Steinberga scored on a tough drive and converted the and-1, the Opals lead had been whittled down to just 1. Bunton replied by getting to the charity stripe and making both, but Latvia kept pushing through Laksa draining one from deep to tie up the scores just a handful of possessions later.
When Smith dialed long distance, she managed to keep the Opals in front, but it would not be for long. Laksa found the bottom of the net from beyond the arc yet again as Latvia stole the lead for the first time in the game with just over a minute to play in the term, and despite Mansfield's successful trip to the free throw line, Latvia took a 1 point lead into the final period.
Australia quickly extinguished the lead in the opening 2 minutes of the final term, with Magbegor putting the Opals up by 1 after being fed inside by Tess Madgen. Steph Talbot extended the lead to 3 when she tipped in a George miss, but Steinberga hit from beyond the arc to tie up the scores yet again. The Opals would then go on an 8-1 run to establish a 7 point lead, and from then on never trail again. Latvia never went away however, yet it was the experience of Allen, George, O'Hea and Ebzery that saw the Opals over the line for the win.
While Bunton's big double-double was the standout performance from the Opals, Ebzery added 11 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists, with Allen adding 11 points and 3 rebounds. Latvian star Steinberga poured in a game-high 24 points, receiving great support from Laksa's 20 points off the bench which included 5-of-8 three-pointers.
The Opals dominated the interior winning the rebound count 53-36, but only outscoring Latvia by 6 in the paint.
Australia are now 1-1 on tour in their preparation for the World Cup, with three more exhibition games before their first game against Nigeria on 22 September. They will also take 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 Tess MADGEN / Townsville Fire Ezi MAGBEGOR / Melbourne Boomers Lauren MANSFIELD / Perth Lynx Leilani MITCHELL / Phoenix Mercury Jenna O’HEA / Melbourne Boomers Alanna SMITH / Stanford University Stephanie TALBOT / Phoenix Mercury
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