Opals put on a clinic to dominate China and advance to semi-finals
A dominant Opals side came out firing in their World Cup quarter-final against China and never let up, building a platform from which they could launch to victory with a 24-7 first quarter before going on to roll to an 83-42 win to advance to the semi-finals.
Liz Cambage once again led the way with 20 points and 9 rebounds, whilst Bec Allen added 16 points, both integral in helping set up a tantalising clash with host nation Spain for the opportunity to play off for gold.
200cm Li Yueru is one of the few players in the tournament able to match it with Liz Cambage in the height stakes, but Cambage won the first battle of the game with a block on the 19-year-old’s shot on China’s first possession. When Allen then opened the scoring with a three from the wing, they set the tone for the contest. However, China’s high-intensity defence in the half court posed the Opals a couple of issues in the early stages and ensured the game remained close. But a second three from Allen coupled with an off-the-ball foul on the same play allowed Cambage to make it five points in as many seconds to put the Opals up 10-5 through four minutes of action.
With the Australians ratcheting up their own defensive intensity as the quarter progressed, the occasional turnover ensued. When Allen turned one such opportunity into a fast break lay-up, China were forced into a timeout down 14-5. Any thoughts of Cambage having major issues against the opposition’s tall timber also quickly dissipated. The Opals centre's superior movement and athleticism paid dividends in the paint before heading to the bench late in the opening term already with 10 points to her name. A pair of scintillating lay-ups from Jenna O’Hea and Alanna Smith tied a bow on an outstanding opening term, as Australia took a 24-7 lead into the second quarter.
Cambage continued her outstanding form early in the second quarter with an off-balance finish from close range before sitting for the majority of the period, a luxury afforded head coach Sandy Brondello due to their dominance of the game. With China continuing to find making shots nigh-on impossible, a three from Cayla George extended the lead beyond 20 less than three minutes into the term.
Offensive rebounds had been a problem for the Opals in the group stage, but the Australians gave up just four in the first 15 minutes of the contest, with three of those actually coming in the form of team rebounds as China found themselves thoroughly squeezed out of the game by the Australian defence. Finally, a three from Sijing Huang gave the Chinese fans something to get excited about, but missed lay-ups and an air-balled three-point attempt on the next two possessions, stifled what little momentum Huang’s shot had generated.
The Australians who were in no mood to show mercy, responded with vengeance as Tess Madgen found Alanna Smith with a delightful dish close to the basket with the shot clock running down to round out an 18-11 second quarter. With Allen and Cambage tallying 12 points apiece and the Australians knocking down shots at a highly respectable 46% compared to China’s 24% clip, the Opals closed the first half up 42-18 and in total control.
With China enduring yet another long scoreless run to open the third quarter, the Opals continued to build their lead as Steph Talbot buried a three in front of the Australian bench for her first points of the game. However, the game was stopped briefly after Li Meng bravely got in front of a fast-moving Cambage going coast-to-coast and hit the floor, but it was the Australian who earned the trip to the line, with Meng being rewarded only with a heavy fall to the hardwood.
A brief sloppy period midway through the third quarter allowed China to get on an extended run that cut the Australian lead to 23 from its zenith of 31, forcing Brondello into a timeout with just over three minutes remaining in the quarter. China would continue to chip away at the lead with a three-point play following the timeout, but things settled slightly for the Opals once Smith earned a couple of trips to the line in quick succession, knocking down three of her four free throws. With China’s momentum killed by the timeout, the Opals regrouped and ensured that there would be no continuation of the comeback. They finished off the quarter with a brilliant dribble move from Sami Whitcomb that allowed the WNBA champion to get into the paint before dishing to Cambage for the last-second basket which saw the Opals take a 61-34 lead into the final term.
Tessa Lavey entered the game for the first time in the final quarter, almost immediately finding Talbot for a wide open three which was duly knocked down as the Opals’ lead hit a new high of 32. Once again, the Chinese side found scoring tough out of the break, adding just two points in the first four minutes of the quarter as the Opals’ second unit played the closers’ role with aplomb. They would extend the lead too, as Ezi Magbegor and Alex Bunton managed to get themselves open in close proximity to the basket before a returning Bec Allen knocked down yet another shot in a scintillating performance from the wing.
The Opals continued to roll in the final minutes, rounding out what was an utterly dominant performance to secure an 83-42 victory and move onto the semi-finals. There they will meet host nation Spain, who accounted for Canada in their quarter-final, for the chance to compete for a gold medal.
Cambage led the way for the Opals once again with 20 points and 9 rebounds in just 19 minutes, while Allen played outstandingly, providing a true second scoring option with 16 points in her 21 minutes on court. All 12 players scored points for the Opals, with the Australians tallying 22 assists on 34 made field goals and out-rebounding China 49-30.
The semi-final against Spain will be played on Sunday morning, tipping off at 5:00am AEST, with the game broadcast live on Fox Sports.
Australia 83 (Cambage 20p, 9r, 3b; Allen 16p, 3r; Talbot 8p, 5a, 3s) China 42 (Li Yueru 12p, 6r; Shao Ting 7p; Sun Mengran 6p)
Opals World Cup Schedule & Results (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 – defeated China 83-42 29-Sep: Semi-Finals - vs Spain, 5:00am AEST 30-Sep: Finals