Participating in their first Asian Cup, Australia has progressed to the quarterfinals undefeated following an important 83-74 win against a very good Japanese team.
The experienced duo of Marianna Tolo and Belinda Snell provided the drive behind a classy win in what proved to be an entertaining, quality contest. Tolo returned to the starting lineup to contribute 24 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists, while Snell wound back the clock with 13 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists. Yet it was Kelsey Griffin who stole the show for the Opals, draining a game-high 26 points on 7-of-11 shooting with 9 rebounds and 4 assists in a commanding individual display.
Australia drained big shots from long-range when they were needed, connecting on 12-of-20 from beyond the arc for the game which proved to be a telling factor in earning the win against a fleet-footed Japanese side.
Japan started the contest strongly, employing a full court press to great effect early to counter an early Tessa Lavey triple which opened the scoring. Griffin was in the thick of the action, adding 4 points, but it would be Japan leading 15-14 at the first break.
Snell and Tolo then combined to score 7 straight points that saw Australia steal back the lead 21-15. Tolo was causing the Japanese headaches in the paint, but at the other end Miyazawa was doing the same to the Opals with some hot shooting to close up the margin and take back the lead. Wrestling control of the contest was Griffin, capping her 7 point run with a big three-pointer. Japan answered every challenge, with Kondo draining a triple and Osaki then tying the game up at 30-all. Continuing to dominate, Tolo then finished the half off in style with 4 points of her own to ensure the Opals led 34-40.
Both sides continued to trade blows early in the third period before treys by Katie-Rae Ebzery and then Snell saw the Opals register their biggest lead of the game at 12 points. Fujioka stepped up for Japan to keen them in touch, yet with Steph Blicavs dropping two three-pointers, Australia went into the final term leading by 9 points.
Australia and Japan traded three-point bomb to open the final quarter, as both teams heated up. Ebzery was on fire, landing her second trey of the term as things were looking good for the Opals. Japan through Miyzawa and Fujioka would close the margin back to 6 points late in the contest, yet the experienced play of Tolo shone through, combing well with Sara Blicavs to ice the game.
While Griffin, Tolo and Snell were outstanding for the Opals, so was Mansfield. The guard added 12 points with 4 rebounds but also dished out an impressive 7 assists. Ebzery was also very good and on target from downtown, chiming in with 10 points including 3-of-3 from beyond the arc. Steph Blicavs also drained a perfect 3-of-3 from long-range for her 9 points as Australia shot 60% from three-point range and 48.5% overall from the field.
Rising star Alanna Smith only saw 3:28 minutes of action, leaving the game early following a heavy fall and not returning. Early reports indicate there is nothing serious.
In finishing the preliminary rounds as the winner of Group B, The Opals will next face the DPR of Korea in a must-win quarterfinal clash at 5:45pm AEST on Thursday, 27 July. The winner will not only progress to the semifinals, but will book a berth in the 2018 FIBA World Cup for women.
Australia 83: Griffin 26 points, 9 rebounds & 4 assists, Tolo 24 points, 8 rebounds & 3 assists, Snell 13 points, 4 rebounds & 5 assists, Mansfield 12 points, 4 rebounds & 7 assists Japan 74: Fujioka 23 points, 10 assists & 3 rebounds, Miyazawa 22 points & 6 rebounds, Takada 14 points & 6 rebounds, Machida 10 points, 4 rebounds & 4 assists
Opals FIBA Asia Cup Schedule (all times AEST)
July 23: Australia defeated Korea 78-54 July 24: Australia defeated Philippines 107-65 July 25: Australia defeated Japan 83-74 July 27: Quarterfinals - Australia vs DPR of Korea 5:45pm (Watch live on Fox Sports Australia 3) July 28: Semifinals July 29: Bronze and Gold medal games