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Star-studded Opals squad named for Olympic pre-qualifying tournament
Liz Cambage and 2019 FIBA Asia Cup All-Star Five recipient Bec Allen headline a star-studded Australian Opals squad of 19 players for the FIBA Asia-Oceania Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament to be held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from November 10 - 18.
Less than two months after the completion of the Asia Cup in which Australia claimed bronze after losses to China and then Japan, all eight nations that competed in Bengaluru, India will take to the court again in November to finalise which four teams will advance to one of four global Olympic Qualifying Tournaments in February 2020.
In the official release, Opals head coach Sandy Brondello recognised the need to assemble the best possible team to ensure every chance of qualifying for the Olympics in Tokyo.
"As we enter the next Qualifier for the Asian Zone, we have named a squad of 19 athletes from which the final 12 will be selected from. It is great to include Liz (Cambage), Marianna (Tolo) and Kelsey (Griffin) back in the mix after they missed the Asia Cup due to injuries and WNBA.
"The recent Asia Cup showed us areas that we need to be better at and these upcoming games with our best team possible, will give us valuable training and games experiences so that we can continue to improve our team chemistry and execution."
Allen was the Opals' best in India, averaging 11.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game while shooting 53.1% from the field overall, and a blistering 45.5% from beyond the three-point line. And while Australia's front court looked formidable with Ezi Magbegor (12ppg and 4.8rpg) and Cayla George (9.3ppg, 6.5rpg, 2.5apg) also performing exceptionally well, it was the Opals inability to contain the slick guards of China and Japan that ultimately contributed to being relegated to the bronze medal game.
Brondello has included all 12 players who earned bronze last month in Bengaluru, but added a host of stars who were previously unavailable for selection.
2017 FIBA Asia Cup MVP Kelsey Griffin returns to the squad, as does 2018 FIBA World Cup star Sami Whitcomb and 2016 Rio Olympian Leilani Mitchell who is coming in fresh off a 2019 Most Improved Player award in the WNBA. However only one of the three naturalised Australian players will be able to be included in the final team of 12 due to FIBA restrictions.
Australia is one of the eight Asia-Oceania region teams that will take to the court in November. They have been pooled with 2019 FIBA Asia Cup champions Japan who are also the Olympic Host nation, Chinese Taipei and India in Group B which will be played in Malaysia. New Zealand who are also taking part will host Group A which features Asia Cup silver medalists China, along with fourth placed Korea and the Philippines.
Only the top two teams from Group A and Group B in the Asia-Oceania pre-qualifying tournaments will progress to one of the four Olympic Qualifying Tournaments in February.
The November pre-qualifying window commences immediately after the conclusion of round 5 of the WNBL season, with an allowance made in the scheduling to accommodate the event. Should the Opals qualify for one of the Olympic Qualifying Tournaments, the February window commences immediately after the final round of the WNBL season, with the semi-final series to tip-off once completed.
The Opals final team of 12 will be announced in late October, and with a a place in one of the Olympic Qualifying Tournaments at stake, it is not a tournament Brondello will be taking lightly.
Australian Opals Squad
Rebecca ALLEN | Arka Gdynia (Poland) / New York Liberty (WNBA)
Abby BISHOP | JCU Townsville Fire
Sara BLICAVS | Southside Flyers
Elizabeth CAMBAGE | Las Vegas Aces (WNBA)
Katie-Rae EBZERY | Perth Lynx
Darcee GARBIN | JCU Townsville Fire
Cayla GEORGE | Deakin University Melbourne Boomers
Kelsey GRIFFIN | University of Canberra Capitals
Tess LAVEY | Bendigo Spirit
Tess MADGEN | JCU Townsville Fire
Ezi MAGBEGOR | Deakin University Melbourne Boomers
Leilani MITCHELL | Southside Flyers
Lauren NICHOLSON | Adelaide Lightning
Jenna O’HEA | Southside Flyers
Nicole SEEKAMP | Adelaide Lightning
Steph TALBOT | Minnesota Lynx (WNBA) / Adelaide Lightning
Marianna TOLO | University of Canberra Capitals
Tahlia TUPAEA |Sydney Uni Flames
Sami WHITCOMB | Seattle Storm (WNBA) / Montpellier (France)
14 November: Australia vs Chinese Taipei | 4:00pm AEST
16 November: Australia vs India | 4:00pm AEST
17 November: Australia vs Japan | 4:00pm AEST