Opals impress in dominating Japan

The Jayco Australian Opals will arrive home with much confidence after a very successful sweep of Japan in a three-game warm-up series ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympics.

The tour was an important part of the Opals preparation for Rio, and also gave them a good look at the opponents who they will be facing at the Olympics as both teams are in the same draw.

Australian Opals win in Japan | Credit: Basketball Australia

The Opals grinded out the wins despite losing two players to injury. Sara Blicavs suffered an injury immediately prior to the tour, and Tess Madgen had to return to Melbourne from Nagaoka after re-injuring her ankle, the same ankle that saw her sidelined for much of the 2015/16 WNBL season.

Liz Cambage (or according to Japan's box score, Elizabeth Kyanbeji) enjoyed an impressive series in her return to the Opals, dominating the Japanese and providing nothing but good signs for Australia. Cambage top-scored in every game, piling on 17 points and 8 rebounds in game 1, 20 points and 12 rebounds in game 2, and an even bigger 26 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals and 3 blocks in game 3.

Also impressing across the series were Leilani Mitchell, Suzy Batkovic, Katie-Rae Ebzery and Cayla George. Their offensive output were great signs for a a very deep squad assembled by head coach Brendan Joyce.

The Opals were relentless in attacking all series, scoring 80 points or more in every game. However it was the defensive efforts, especially in the first game, that Joyce was most pleased with.

"Our team defense was superb for the full 40 minutes, keeping Japan to 41 points and 0% from the three point line. Japan as a team generally shot a high percentage as this is one of their strengths," Joyce said.

Keeping Japan to just 41 points proves the Opals' defensive capabilities, and managing to win by 39 points is a huge effort. This margin was shortened in the second game as Japan were able to scrape in some more points to reach 55. Japan who also improved throughout the series, generated some momentum in accumulating their highest score of the series game 3 (73), yet it wasn't enough to combat the dynamic Opals.

Japan came out physical and tough in game 3, and Joyce was pleased with his team's response.

"We expected them to be extremely physical after being 0-2 down and this is what we got...I thought our players did a great job playing through contact and finishing the game strong in the fourth quarter," added Joyce.

The entire series is a great confidence booster and momentum builder for the Opals and can give Aussies some great hope for Rio as they take aim at gold. Next on their agenda is a two week tour of Europe in late May, before returning to Australia for two camps in June and July where it is expected the final 12 will be selected.

Take a look at the Opals in Japan:

#ROADTORIO | Take a look at what goes into a @JaycoAust Opals international tour during the recent Japan series.https://t.co/DxauFxaFvw

— Basketball Australia (@BasketballAus) May 11, 2016

GAME 1: Japan 41 def. by Australia 80

GAME 2: Japan 55 def. by Australia 81

GAME 3: Japan 73 def. by Australia 84

Opals Squad

Rebecca ALLEN Suzy BATKOVIC Abby BISHOP Sara BLICAVS Nat BURTON Elizabeth CAMBAGE Katie-Rae EBZERY Cayla GEORGE Laura HODGES Rachel JARRY Tessa LAVEY Tess MADGEN Leilani MITCHELL Erin PHILLIPS Steph TALBOT Penny TAYLOR Marianna TOLO