Veteran impact, Maley's debut highlight Opals mammoth win over Mali
Seven Opals finished in double figures, after Jackson and Tolo turned the game on its head following a frustrating start.
Intensity and aggression may have been the themes coming out of the Opals’ loss to France in their World Cup opener. If you scratch below the surface, there were a number of questions the Australian side had to answer in their contest against Mali on Friday night. How would the Opals line up to start the game? Would they make the required adjustments at the necessary times, and would players like Marianna Tolo —who excelled against France— see more minutes?
In the early stages, it looked as though the questions the Australian sporting community had come up with the night before was only set to grow. The Opals started the game with the same five as they had in the opener, with Sami Whitcomb, Bec Allen, Steph Talbot, Cayla George, and Ezi Magbegor commencing proceedings. Things did not go to plan as Mali opened up a 10-2 advantage, as their transition game capitalised on Australian misses, leading to a Opals timeout and a change in lineup balance that would alter the game entirely.
Tolo subbed in alongside Lauren Jackson for Cayla George and Ezi Magbegor, and the increased size and power in the frontcourt paid immediate dividends. During their first possession on court, Jackson grabbed a Tolo miss and was fouled on the putback, and it was immediately obvious that against a team like Mali that is far more speed focused, players who could create a dominant presence in the offensive paint would provide the Opals with their biggest advantage. Suddenly, a team that at time looked bereft of backup plans at times against France had an immediate answer against Mali. Although the two opposition teams are not comparable in terms of quality, the ease of the change in play style was highly encouraging.
Darcee Garbin was one of the players tasked with building upon the foundation that Jackson and Tolo created, coming on late in the first quarter as the Opals rounded out the opening term on a 21-2 run.
“I mean, how amazing is that? You can sub in Tolo and Lauren Jackson off the bench, and they have that amazing impact. So, they get out there and they set the standard,” Garbin explained. “And then that's my job to come on and just try and keep that up and I do that to the best of my ability.”
Indeed, Jackson played just shy of nine minutes, but completely changed the trajectory of the game in that short space of time with eight points, four rebounds, and one absolutely indisputable presence in the paint.
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