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Opals book semi showdown with USA

8 August 2012

BASKETBALL: The Australian women’s basketball team have powered through the final stages of their quarterfinal match with China on Day 11 to set up a semi-final clash with the USA.

The Opals led 57-52 at the start of the final term and wore the Chinese right down with their size and strength from there, to win 75-60.

Australia will play the USA on Day 13. The Americans qualified for the semis with a 91-48 win over Canada.

Asked if the Aussies could finally turn the tables on the Americans after being beaten by them in the gold medal match at the last three Olympics, Aussie star Suzy Batkovic said: “It’s got to start somewhere. It’s time for a change, I think, so hopefully we can get it done. Hopefully, it’s payback time for previous Olympics.”

Batkovic said the key to an Opals win over the Americans would have to be defence.

“We’ve got to get stops,” she said. “They’re incredible athletes. For us, it’s going to be about the defensive end, and getting good, easy looks on the offensive end. Moving the ball and setting good screens and things like that.

“We’re finished with China. Next stop is America, and we move on to bigger things. We’re just trying to build every game.”

Opals coach Carrie Graf said the Aussies had been much more consistent over the course of the game against China than they were in the preliminary rounds.”

“We talked about playing for 40 minutes,” she said. “We thought we could wear them out with our running and our possession game, and I think we did that. We got out and ran, and I think that was certainly our plan.

“We didn’t think we were going to win it in the first or second quarter. It was a case of could we wear them down over the course of the game, and I think we did that.”

Australia began the match quickly, coming up with the first two baskets from Lauren Jackson and Belinda Snell for a 4-0 lead. But the Chinese hung in there, and midway through the first quarter they grabbed the lead, 9-8.

But they only held it for a few seconds before Jackson grabbed it back with her second basket. China eventually got back in front, 14-12, but the Opals finished the term with a 10-2 run to go to quarter-time with a 22-16 lead.

Jackson pushed that lead out to nine points, 25-16, with a three-pointer to begin the second term, but then the Aussies went cold on offence and failed to score for five minutes.

China came up with seven points during that time to cut Australia’s lead to 25-23. The Opals began to perk up again, but their attack was spluttering at best for the rest of the first half.

The Chinese kept pressing, eventually getting level at 31-31. Two free throws from Liz Cambage put the Aussies back in front, 33-31, but late in the term Chinese came up with back-to-back baskets to establish a three-point lead, 36-33.

Jackson fought hard under the basket to score the last points of the half and take the Australians to the dressing-room one point down, 36-35.

The Australians shot at just 32 per cent (11 from 34) in the first half. China were better, with 16 successes from 34 attempts for a success rate of 47 per cent.

Australia were going to have to play at a quicker pace and be more aggressive in defence to get the job done from there, and they began the third quarter with a much better attitude.

Kritsi Harrower immediately put them back in front, 37-36, and soon after Batkovic came up with back-to-back baskets to make the lead 41-37. But, again, the Aussies went off the boil.

China got back to 41-40 down, and following an Australian turnover the Chinese ran away to score again and regain the lead, 42-41. Midway through the term the Chinese were out to a 44-41 advantage, and the Opals were missing too many shots.

They finally nailed one through Cambage to leave the Aussies one point down with 4min 30sec left in the quarter, at which point China called a timeout.

The two teams then traded two two-pointers apiece, leaving China 48-47 up.  China got back out to a 50-47 lead before the Aussies went on a mini rampage to lead 55-50

The Opals went to three-quarter time with a 55-52 lead.

Australia kept a step ahead of the Chinese early in the fourth term, and led 61-57 with seven minutes left.

Then Cambage hit a two-pointer, plus a point from the foul, to make it 64-57 and put China under the pump. Jackson then turned the screws with a three-pointer to make it 67-57 approaching the five-minute mark.

Australia led by 11 points, 71-60, with 2:27 remaining, and had booked a semi-final date with their greatest rivals.

Greg Prichard in London


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