Australia's Opals embark on their first ever FIBA Asia Cup this coming weekend in Bangalore, India from 23-29 July.
The world number four ranked Opals enter the tournament as the highest FIBA ranked side and would be widely considered favourites heading into the event. They have been drawn in Group B against Korea (15th), the Philippines (49th) and Japan (13th). The tournament takes on great importance, as it serves as the qualifying event for the 2018 FIBA World Cup for Women. To qualify, the Opals must qualify for the medal rounds.
Reigning Asian Cup champions Japan will be gunning for revenge on the Opals after a late game collapse saw the Australians steal a victory at the Rio Olympic Games. Australia will be rightly wary of their Japanese foe, while Korea is also likely to pose some trouble for the Opals as well. Japan's swift ball movement and sharpshooting caused the Opals problems in Rio - something that coaches Paul Goriss and Cheryl Chambers will be keen to address.
China as the 10th ranked FIBA nation, are the highest seeded team next to the Opals in the event, and appear to be the major challenger from Group A.
Some late forced changes were made to the Opals side, with Alice Kunek and Alanna Smith added to the team to replace the injured Abby Bishop (ankle) and Alex Bunton (knee). Both Bishop and Bunton underwent MRI scans that confirmed corrective surgery was required that ultimately saw them ruled out of the tournament.
Smith enjoyed an outstanding season with Stanford University in the NCAA, helping lead her side to the Final Four. She represents the next generation of Opals knocking on the door of senior selection, having already enjoyed success on the world stage after earning bronze and selection to the All-Star Five at the 2015 FIBA U19 World Championships in Russia.
Kunek is no stranger to playing for Australia previously, helping the Opals win FIBA Oceania gold in 2015 while also collecting a bronze medal at the 2013 World University Games.
Also bolstering the squad is the addition of Australian basketball legend Penny Taylor and Olaf Lange to the coaching staff given head coach Sandy Brondello was unavailable due to her WNBA coaching commitments with the Phoenix Mercury.
Experienced center Marianna Tolo is likely to play a key role for the Opals against their Asian opponents, with her height and versatility set to pose a challenge for their Asian opponents, especially with Liz Cambage unavailable for selection. She is just one of four Opals to back up from the Rio Olympic campaign, with Tessa Lavey, Katie Ebzery and Laura Hodges also joining her.
Making a return to the Opals is veteran Belinda Snell. Having seemingly retired from International competition after being cut from the Rio Olympic squad, Snell's experience and sharpshooting is a welcome addition to the team.
FIBA will provide full coverage of the FIBA Women's Asia Cup via livebasketball.tv with a monthly subscription of US$10. All games will be uploaded to FIBA's YouTube channel for free 24 hours after each game is completed.
Opals FIBA Asia Cup Schedule (all times AEST)
July 23: Australia vs Korea at 3:30pm July 24: Australia vs Philippines at 5:45pm July 25: Australia vs Japan at 5:45pm July 27: Quarterfinals July 28: Semifinals July 29: Bronze and Gold medal games Australia 12-player roster for FIBA Women's Asia Cup 2017 Sara Blicavs Stephanie Blicavs Katie-Rae Ebzery Maddie Garrick Kelsey Griffin Laura Hodges Tessa Lavey Alice Kunek Lauren Mansfield Belinda Snell Alanna Smith Marianna Tolo