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Opals first half masterclass against Turkey secures quarter-final berth
Australia have qualified for the quarter-finals of the 2018 FIBA World Cup in Tenerife, Spain, following a commanding 90-64 victory over the world number 7 ranked Turkey to top Group B undefeated.
The Opals earned the win behind a first half offensive masterclass behind the scintillating play of Liz Cambage who was unguardable. The 6'8 centre was scoring inside and out on her way to compiling a breathtaking 24 points on a perfect 11-of-11 shooting with 5 rebounds in just 12 minutes of the first half! She would go on to finish with a game-high 25 points, with 7 rebounds and 2 blocks in playing 19 minutes to continue to assert her dominance on the world stage.
For as good as Cambage was, she was far from playing a lone hand. The trio of Bec Allen (13 points and 4 rebounds and 3 assists), Cayla George (12 points and 5 assists) and Sami Whitcomb (11 points and 3 steals) all stepping up with big plays and providing additional scoring options, helping overwhelm Turkey early before finishing them off.
Australia started aggressively, going to their star centre Cambage who was on fire from the outset. With the very first possession, Cambage gained position deep inside the paint for a score, and then drained a long two on next possession. It was a fast start by both teams, with Turkey draining a triple and Bec Allen scoring a long two of her own. Cayla George was left wide open at the top of the key and duly drained the three. Soon after Cambage demonstrated her versatility by dialing long distance for a triple of her own, but she was only just getting started as the Opals led 12-5 after just a tick over 3 minutes in.
Seemingly on every touch, Cambage scored, as everything she touched turned into gold, going on a first quarter rampage, scoring her 14th points of the term on a put-back. Having earned a rest, Steph Talbot continued the Opals offensive clinic, book-ending a turkey trey with two of her own. When Whitcomb joined in on the fun with a shake and bake drive baseline which was followed by a transition triple in rhythm, the Opals had clocked up a dizzying 32-19 first quarter lead.
Turkey, who were playing excellent basketball, just had no answer for Cambage and the hot-shooting Opals who drained five first quarter three-pointers.
Alanna Smith got on the scoreboard when she cleaned up a Whitcomb missed triple to ignite the Opals in the second term and keep the margin at 13. Cambage returned to the floor early on and continued right where she left off, scoring on her first touch via a mid-range jumper. She would then put the ball on the floor the next play to score on a tough runner to ensure Turkey remained on the back foot.
The Opals had turned up the defensive intensity and Turkey were struggling to score as a result. Whitcomb continued to fire from deep, draining a quick-release triple from the wing to extend the lead to 18. When Smith was able to sneak in behind the defense to score inside, the margin hit 20 points for the first time.
Cambage did not look like missing at all, hitting a beautiful pull up jumper to keep pushing the Opals ahead. She did the same again on the next play, this time over the outstretched hands of her defender, and was making the game look easy. After playing just 12 minutes, she would head back to the bench with a staggering 24 points on a perfect 11-of-11 shooting, including 5 rebounds and a three-pointer.
Allen hit a nice jumper, but the scoring dried up late in the half as Cambage sat on the bench, with some sloppy turnovers and missed free throws creeping into the game. A brilliant backdoor pass to Talbot broke the Australian scoring drought in the last-minute, ensuring they took a commanding 53-33 lead into half time.
Kate Ebzery scored on a nice runner through the middle to open the second half on what proved to be a patient possession. Cambage ran the fast break and was fouled hard, making a tough lay-up that was waved off due to the unsportsmanlike foul being called. She finally proved she was human by missing a shot the next play, however took out her frustration at the other end by swatting away a Turkish drive.
The hot three-point shooting continued, with George finding the bottom of the net from the wing courtesy of a Talbot skip-pass. While Cambage was not being used as a focal point on offense in the third period, she was intimidating at the other end, rejecting another Turkish foray into the paint. George was the one to step up offensively, before Tess Madgen also chimed in with a good-looking three-pointer on the right-wing.
A shot-clock beating corner triple to Allen was timely, as things got sloppy for the Opals, allowing Turkey an open look for three which went down. Smith steadied things with two made free throws, and when Allen beat the shot clock yet again with another three-pointer in the dying moments of the period, the margin was back to 26 points and the Opals firmly in control.
Allen's confidence was rising, as she drove strongly and scored to get things moving in the final quarter, yet was unable to convert the three-point play. Asena Yalcin drained back-to-back triples for Turkey, but Allen made her way back to the free throw line and duly made both. Olcay Turgut was found open in the corner and made no mistake, hitting a third straight triple for Turkey that saw Sandy Brondello call a timeout to address the defensive lapses. It paid dividends too, as out of the timeout Australia generated a defensive stop before good ball movement saw Magebegor score inside. She would follow-up with a strong drive not long after before Turkey went to sleep on Whitcomb who drained her third triple for the game.
As the game meandered its way to a conclusion, Allen fed Tessa Lavey at the top of the key for an open three, with the Opals earning a convincing 26 point win and direct qualification to the quarter-finals.
The Opals were on fire from beyond the arc, hitting 11-of-23 at a 48% clip. when you add in 58% shooting from inside the arc, the Opals ultimately proved far too efficient and effective offensively for a Turkish side that was simply overwhelmed by the first half onslaught. Every Opals that hit the court scored, as the Australian's versatility was on show for the rest of the world to see.
With Jenna O'Hea's lower leg injury sidelining her for the third straight game, by qualifying for the quarter-finals it provides her with an additional day's rest before they return to the court on Friday night. The Opals will take on the winner of the quarter-final qualification game between the 2nd placed team of Group D (China) and the 3rd placed team in Group C (Japan). The yet to be scheduled game will be broadcast live on Fox Sports.
Opals World Cup Schedule (all times AEST)
22-Sep: defeated Nigeria 86-68 23-Sep: defeated Argentina 84-43 25-Sep: defeated Turkey 90-64 26-Sep: Quarter-Final Qualifications (Opals not required to play) 28-Sep: Quarter-Finals - vs Winner of 2nd Group D (China) vs 3rd Group C (Japan) 29-Sep: Semi-Finals 30-Sep: Finals