Aussies win World Champs bronze
6 October 2014
BASKETBALL: The Opals have saved their best for last to win the bronze medal in style at the women's world basketball championship.
An Australian team missing its two most influential players completed an an impressive campaign with a 30-point thumping of hosts Turkey in Sunday's third-place playoff.
The 74-44 victory in Istanbul ensured a fitting reward for Brendan Joyce's side, which defied pre-tournament injuries to stars Liz Cambage and Lauren Jackson to win a ninth medal from the past 10 major international tournaments.
In an encouraging sign two years out from the Rio Olympics, a squad featuring seven world championship debutants stepped up to match Australia's result at the London Games two years ago.
"I'm very, very proud," said Joyce, appointed full-time head coach last year.
"We truly are a team. The unity in this team is just amazing.
"That result today was beyond what I could have thought, playing the host nation, but the girls just had the fire in the belly not to let up and to make sure that bronze medal's hanging around their neck.
"It's something to remember for the rest of their lives and I will. It's my proudest moment as a coach of the Australian national team."
The second-ranked Opals maintained a proud tradition of success in international basketball.
They won the world championships in 2006, took bronze in 1998 and 2002, and have medalled at the past five Olympics.
Australia suffered a 12-point loss to the top-ranked United States in Saturday's semi-finals but their determination to win a medal was evident early on Sunday.
The Opals killed off the home crowd's spirit quickly as they exploded out of the blocks with the opening 17 points, keeping Turkey off the the scoreboard for almost eight minutes.
The hosts fought back early in the second quarter but, with skipper Penny Taylor and fellow Phoenix WNBA star Erin Phillips dominating proceedings, Australia regained a big margin to lead 38-19 at halftime.
The Opals never gave Turkey a sniff as they continued their dominance after the break, taking a 54-26 lead into the final quarter, which was effectively a victory lap.
As has been a hallmark of Australia's campaign, there were a stack of key contributors for the Opals.
France-based forward Marianna Tolo had a game-high 21 points, hitting eight from 11 from the field to finish as Australia's top-scorer for the tournament.
Inspirational veteran Taylor also capped an outstanding comeback from a serious knee injury with 13 points, five rebounds and nine assists while Cayla Francis had 11 points and five rebounds.
Australia now loom as genuine gold medal contenders in Rio, with Jackson and Cambage to return and a host of new faces set to benefit from their first taste of the big time.
"I said to (21-year-old point guard) Tessa Lavey after the game, `this is one medal of many more I hope to win with you'," Phillips said.
"It's definitely inspiring to the younger players."