Opals clinch game 1 over feisty Tall Ferns
With a spot in the 2016 Rio Olympics on the line, the Australian Opals delivered a commanding performance to defeat a scrappy New Zealand's Tall Ferns lineup 61-41.
Stephanie Talbot got the Opals off to a hot start, hitting a three to beat the shot-clock and start the game, as the Opals put out a starting lineup that was missing all of the 2014 FIBA World Cup starters. However the Opals got off to a nervous start with sluggish and stagnant play, something that became a feature in the opening quarter, though the superior talent shone through as the Opal took a 15-5 lead at the first break.
Joyce in the huddle against the Tall Ferns
Both teams struggled from the perimeter, with New Zealand forced to adapt and attack the paint with surprising success. The Tall Ferns managed to keep it close as Australia failed to convert their opportunities, only extending their lead to 12 at the half.
Australia appeared to follow New Zealand's lead in the second half, penetrating and creating issues in the paint for the New Zealand defense. As the Opals' game plan came together they showed flashes of quality basketball, pulling away to open up a 50-29 lead heading into the final term.
In the fourth quarter the Tall Ferns showed a continued effort as the Opals appeared content just to hold ground and maintain the margin. New Zealand fought right until the end in an effort that will inspire hope heading back to New Zealand for game two.
Opals head coach Brendan Joyce was happy with the defensive effort and accepts that it was just a bad day shooting the ball that cost them a bigger win.
'Incredible defensive effort to keep a team like that to 41 points, but we just didn't knock down shots...It's a fine line giving them the confidence to shoot the ball but also recognise that you have to get it to the rack a bit more.'
-Opals head coach Brendan Joyce
Captain Suzy Batkovic led the Opals with 16 points (4/14 FG), 7 rebounds and a relentless effort that was the catalyst for the win. Tessa Lavey was another to impress with 9 points and 11 rebounds in a powerful performance. For New Zealand it was captain Natalie Taylor who led from the front with 7 points and 5 rebounds.
New Zealand Tall Fern head coach was upbeat with the performance and knows that if they maintain the strong defence and "hit buckets", they are in with a chance.
The margin, probably not that pleased with but the actual scoreline we held Australia to, I'm very happy with. I think that's a beatable scoreline for us, it is realistic. Within the game we had a lot of good open looks. Probably the one blinding and obvious step was probably the offensive rebounds, an area we really let ourselves down in and possession games is one that if we want compete we are going to have to win, we let ourselves down.
-Tall Ferns head coach Kennedy Kereama
The Opals will look to improve heading into game two, with three-point shooting and team offense lacking at times. Opals coach Brendan Joyce will be impressed with the defense, which held the Tall Ferns to just 21.5% from the field. It will be another opportunity for the team to work together and continue their preparation for the Olympics as they appear to be bound for Rio and a medal in 2016.
2015 FIBA Oceania Championships
Game 1, 15 August: Australian Opals defeated New Zealand Tal Ferns 61-41
Game 2: 17 August vs New Zealand Tall Ferns, ASB Arena, Tauranga, New Zealand