With less than a week before the 2018 FIBA World Cup for Women tips off in Tenerife, Spain, the host nation's experience shone through in their 65-59 exhibition win against an undermanned Opals.
Playing with just 8 players, the undermanned Opals were narrowly outscored in each of the final three-quarters as the home side earned a 6 point win. Rising star Alanna Smith scored a game-high 15 points, while Bec Allen (12 points) and Steph Talbot (10 points) joined her in scoring in double figures.
With Sami Whitcomb yet to join the team following her WNBA Championship victory with the Seattle Storm, the Opals were again playing without Alex Bunton who appears to be carrying a lower leg injury, Jenna O'Hea and Liz Cambage, the latter who suited up but did not take to the court. The Opals preparation had already been disrupted with the injury withdrawals of back court duo Leilani Mitchell and Lauren Mansfield, and it appears that Brondello has placed Cambage and veteran leader O'Hea in cotton wool ahead of their opening World Cup game against Nigeria on 22 September.
The Opals got off to a terrific start against Spain, with Talbot dialing long distance for the first score of the game before Kate Ebzery followed up with a bucket for a 5-0 lead. Spain however would bounce back to score the next 6 points, and from there it became a see-sawing affair. Tessa Lavey hit an open trey, and not long after Tess Madgen also struck success from beyond the arc to ensure the Opals were ahead 15-14 at quarter time.
Spain came out of the blocks fast in the second term, scoring 6 unanswered points to take the lead as turnovers and missed shots hurt the Opals. The home side pushed the margin out to 9 and were threatening to blow out the game as their defense shut down the Opals scoring. A late bucket by Ezi Magebor saw the lead at 5 points in Spain's favour at half time.
Magbegor and Cayla George finally managed to deliver some points for the Australians. Former Dandenong Ranger star guard Laia Palau was causing havoc in the third period, scoring her 8th points of the game as the margin hit double figures. A late score and technical made free throw to Steph Talbot saw the margin stand at 7 points in favour of Spain at the final change.
Smith added 6 straight points for the Opals early in the final term to try to ignite the Australians offense, but it was almost a lone hand as Spain was able to match every move. She moved up to 15 points for the game before Allen connected on a much-needed three-pointer to prevent the margin from blowing out. When Allen followed up with another triple soon after, it gave the Opals a small glimmer of hope, ultimately sparking a 8-0 run to finish the game on a high, falling short by just 3 points.
The Spaniards did a good job defensively to restrict the Australians to shooting a lowly 34.8% from the field compared to their own 40.3%. Despite missing Cambage, Bunton and O'Hea, the Opals still won the rebound count (49-43), and outscored the Spanish by 12 points from beyond the arc courtesy of 5-of-11 three-pointers. Yet Australia committed 22 turnovers to Spain's 13, an indicator of the injury disruptions to the Opals back court.
Next, the Opals take on the USA in a behind closed doors game to conclude their exhibition games in preparation for the World Cup.
Australian Opals for 2018 FIBA World Cup
Rebecca ALLEN / New York Liberty Alexandra BUNTON / Sydney Uni Flames Elizabeth CAMBAGE / Dallas Wings Katie-Rae EBZERY / Perth Lynx Cayla GEORGE / Dallas Wings Tessa LAVEY / Dandenong Rangers Tess MADGEN / Townsville Fire Ezi MAGBEGOR / Melbourne Boomers Jenna O’HEA / Melbourne Boomers Alanna SMITH / Stanford University Stephanie TALBOT / Phoenix Mercury Sami WHITCOMB / Seattle Storm
Opals World Cup Schedule (all times AEST)
22-Sep: vs Nigeria @ 10:30pm 23-Sep: vs Argentina @ 8:00pm 25-Sep: vs Turkey @ 10:30pm 26-Sep: Quarter-Final Qualifications 28-Sep: Quarter-Finals 29-Sep: Semi-Finals 30-Sep: Finals