An Opals side expected to roll to victory in their Asia Cup opener against Philippines has done exactly that, dominating for the vast majority of the contest to post a 123-57 victory in Bengaluru, India.
*With the exception of Katie-Rae Ebzery, no player registered more than 19 minutes of playing time. Eight Opals finished in double figures and all 12 players scored and collected at least three rebounds, with Cayla George posting a double-double of 11 points and 14 boards.
Early in the piece, the size and athleticism of the Opals posed problems for the undersized Philippines side. Jenna O’Hea headeded to the line twice in the early stages and Cayla George found success from both close range and beyond the arc. As the first quarter progressed, the Opals’ transition offence began to take over as their opponents struggled to keep pace. Bec Allen was the chief beneficiary, adding 9 points in the first 4 minutes before coach Sandy Brondello deployed a second platoon. The new-look lineup included major tournament debutant Lauren Nicholson, as a staggering eleven Australian players saw the court in the opening term.
A determined Philippines team would put together a decent stretch of scoring late in the opening period to score seven of their points in the final three minutes, but a dominant Australian side held a 38-16 advantage after a quarter, dominating the rebound count 21-4.
The scoring slowed considerably in the early stages of the second quarter as the Opals made just three baskets in the first three minutes of the term. Coupled with some needless turnovers, it cost the Australians some scoring opportunities. However, when things clicked, possessions regularly ended in a high-percentage look, and following an early timeout, the Opals strung together a 7-0 run that briefly extended the margin beyond 30 with still five minutes remaining in the half.
The Filipino resistance strengthened as the half time break approached, launching a brief flurry of threes that cut into the margin. Gemma Miranda accounted for 15 of her team’s 32 points before checking out for the final minute of the half, and to the Philippines’ credit, the deficit for the second quarter was just five points. Nevertheless, that resulted in a 61-34 halftime lead for the Opals as the rebound count read a mind-boggling 41-8, with the Australians assisting on 18 of their 23 made field goals.
As some early infractions put a couple of Filipino players in foul trouble early in the second half, the Opals took full advantage. With the transition game still proving dominant against a less-than-stellar defence, and Ezi Magbegor swatting away shots with glee, the game began to resemble what we had seen in the first quarter as the Australians started on a 9-0 run.
A sole Filipino basket failed to put a dent in the Opals momentum, as turnovers continued to mount and provide the Opals with additional chances. The game began to get physical and even slightly chippy late in the quarter, as George and then Philippines’ Marizze Tongco were both tagged with unsportsmanlike fouls in separate incidents. However the Opals continued to move the ball well at times, putting together a 25-6 term to hold an 86-40 lead with a quarter to play.
The final stanza saw the Australian second unit deployed for the most part, however given the gulf in class that hardly translated to the Opals making things easier for their opponents. They brought up the century courtesy of a Nicholson three midway through the final term, as Magbegor returned to the game late in the piece and continued her outstanding afternoon. She would end the contest with a game-high 18 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals, and a single assist which came in the final 30 seconds, to fill every column in the stat sheet as eight Opals tallied double figures in a landslide 123-57 victory.
Alongside Magbegor’s 18-point game, George notched a double-double of 11 points and 14 rebounds, whilst O’Hea tallied 17 points. Leilani Mitchell led the Australians with 9 assists as the Opals assisted on 41 of 46 made shots, whilst every member of the lineup finished with at least 3 points and 3 rebounds in out-rebounding their opponents 70-19.
With a first-up win under their belts, the Opals now prepare to face New Zealand in a trans-Tasman battle in their second pool game, with a win crucial if they want to advance directly to the semi-finals as pool winners. That game tips off at 5:45pm, live on Fox Sports 507 and Kayo.
Opals FIBA Asia Cup schedule
24 September: Opals defeated Philippines 122-57
25 September: Opals vs New Zealand – Tip-off at 5:45pm (AEST)
26 September: Opals vs China – Tip-off at 8:00pm (AEST)
27 September: 2nd and 3rd place teams to play (Winner of groups advance)
28 September: Semi-finals
29 September: Medal games
*An earlier version mentioned no player averaged more than 19 minutes, this has been edited for clarification. Thanks to Phil Jones for pointing this out.