Team USA were made to work hard for their 104-89 win over the Opals in their final hit-out before the 2016 Rio Olympic Games at Madison Square Garden, New York.
Opals vs USA at Madison Square Garden | Credit: icevests.com
In what proved to be an entertaining game of women's international basketball, it was a 35-23 third term in favour of Team USA that ultimately saw them hold off the Opals for the win. Encouraging for Australia was the performance of Elizabeth Cambage who dominated offensively and caused the US side all kinds of headaches. Cambage delivered a game-high 22 points ( 8/15 FG) with 8 rebounds in a performance for which her opponents had no answer in containing her.
The USA were led by a stellar shooting performance from Diana Taurasi's 20 points, 3 rebound and 3 assist effort, leading 5 American's who scored in double figures for the game.
Starting strongly and confidently, the Opals raced out to a 5-0 lead thanks to Cambage and a three-ball from Erin Phillips (8 points). Maya Moore responded, scoring 8 points for the term to put the USA back in front. When Leilani Mitchell and Penny Taylor both landed treys, the Opals had opened up an early 17-11 advantage. Then Elena Delle Donne took over the game, scoring 11 points for the quarter to put her side ahead by 5. Tessa Lavey found Rachel Jarry for the mid-range jumper to close out the quarter to make it a 25-28 at the first break.
Behind the continued stellar play of Delle Donne and Angel McCoughtry, the US raced out to a 41-25 lead as the game looked to be on a pathway to a blowout. Laura Hodges halted their run at 13 with much-need basket. The game opened up as Penny Taylor converted an And-1 and Katie Rae Ebzery landed a triple. Mitchell would close out the half with 5 straight points to allow the Opals to close back to 6 points (48-54). Mitchell had been outstanding in providing 16 first-half points, while Cambage had provided 8 points.
The third term belonged to Team USA. Taurasi caught fire, nailing two three-pointers either side of a lay up by Mitchell. At times it appeared Cambage was playing a lone hand for the Opals as she went head-to-head with Britney Griner and came out on top. Stephanie Talbot and Taylor landed two triples late in the period to try to keep Australia within reach, going into the final change trailing 71-89.
Griner and Cambage would continue to trade blows in the low block which made for great viewing. Australian head coach Brendan Joyce gave all his bench a good run, ensuring the pace of the game remained frenetic. The Opals would make inroads into the margin, winning the final term 18-15, but were never seriously able threaten again as they fell short by 15 points.
While Cambage was the star for the Opals, Mitchell was just as good. The diminutive guard added 18 points on 6/8 shooting (2/3 3PT) with 2 rebounds, 3 assist and 2 steals. Taylor chimed in with 8 points, 8 rebounds and 2 assists, Lavey had 8 points and 5 assists, and Phillips also added 8 points. For the US, Taurasi had great support from Delle Donne who had 19 points and 5 rebounds, Griner with 15 points and 5 rebounds, and More with 13 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists.
It was a good performance by the Opals against the Olympic gold medal favourites, with Joyce able to take heart from a loss in which his side was able to run with, and at times dominate against the team of WNBA stars.
"Even though we lost we got a lot of confidence out of this game," Joyce said after the game.
"We have a bit of a rougher road to a potential rematch with them for a gold medal in Rio."
The Opals open their Olympic campaign against hosts Brazil on Sunday, August 6. After accounting for Canada and France in their two earlier games, it would be a brave person to bet against a gold medal re-match in Rio.
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