Aussies confirm spot in Rio
17 August 2015
BASKETBALL: The Australian women's basketball team have secured a spot at next year's Rio Olympics with a 17-point win over New Zealand to close out their two-game qualifying series.
Building on their 20-point first-leg victory in Melbourne on Saturday, the Aussies put on a dominant second-half display in Tauranga on Monday to claim the 80-63 victory.
Three-time Olympian Laura Hodges led the way with 22 points and five rebounds, helped by experienced duo Suzy Batkovic (15 points) and Rachel Jarry (nine points).
Micaela Cocks top scored for the Tall Ferns with 21 points and seven rebounds, while Lisa Wallbutton added 10.
While both sides had improved on Saturday night's effort, they again struggled to knock down shots early on.
The Opals found it especially hard, particularly from long-range, as the Tall Ferns dictated the pace and stepped it up in defence.
Their first four points all came via free-throws, and it took more than three minutes to land any from the field.
It was a tough and defence-dominated opening quarter, which ended level at 14-14.
But the experience of Hodges, Batkovic and Jarry lifted Australia in the second term for a 40-33 lead at the main break.
Their high-energy continued into the third quarter and the Tall Ferns felt it, committing four fouls in the opening minutes.
The momentum swung entirely the visitors' way after that, with the green and gold flexing their muscle and showing why they are ranked No.2 in the world.
Hodges sealed the victory with the last five points.
The Opals have now won every Oceania series since 1974, and are on their way to a sixth successive Olympics.
They've won a medal at every Games since Atlanta in 1996, including three silver and two bronze.
But legend Lauren Jackson said she believed Australia were better placed than ever to go one better and win gold at Rio.
"I've been in championship teams my whole career ... and you have this feeling going into it, this air of success," the four-time Olympian told AAP.
"I feel like at the moment, we have that.
"I really believe that we can do something special in Rio - we could win a gold medal, absolutely.
"Whether I'm on the team or not, they have probably the best opportunity they've ever had to win that gold - especially if Liz (Cambage) is healthy and fit.
"I'm really excited."
The Tall Ferns will get a second chance at qualifying in a repechage tournament involving 12 teams in June next year, with the top five earning a spot.