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New faces lead Opals charge

NEW Opals faces Kelsey Griffin, Alanna Smith and Lauren Mansfield were the standouts today as Australia swept aside Korea 78-54 in its FIBA Asia Cup debut.

A tentative and nervous opening by the Opals at Bengaluru Stadium allowed Korea to sneak into the lead in the final minute of the first quarter to go ahead 15-13.

Hyeyoon Bae put Korea back into the lead again at 17-16 inside the first two minutes of the second quarter but that was all she wrote for the Asia Cup veterans.

Smith opened her senior international career with a nifty reverse, igniting a 13-0 run which even two timeouts failed to derail.

NO ORDINARY SMITH: Alanna Smith shone in her Opals debut. Pic courtesy FIBA.

In one phase, the 20-year-old, 193cm power forward swished a 3-pointer, then blocked a shot, Smith with seven points and five rebounds for the period.

Her tenacity seemed to spark the Aussies who outscored Korea 20-3 in the second period, Bae’s basket at 8:06 its only field goal and her free throw at 1:51 making it a 17-1 run to halftime.

 As if sending a message her Rio Olympics’ omission  was an  oversight of epic proportions – there were a  few – Belinda  Snell (left) opened the game with a 3-  pointer, her second  taking the Opals to a 6-2 start.

 Stephanie Blicavs off the bench and wearing her  maiden  name “Cumming” on her uniform because she  hasn’t yet  completed the necessary paperwork,  followed Snell’s lead  with a 3-pointer with her first  shot.

 At 9-3, the Opals were looking OK, though hardly in sync. It wasn’t until naturalised power forward Griffin hit the floor Australia scored its first inside basket, 2:39 out from the first break.

Griffin and Smith stole the show in the second period.

“She’s going to be an absolute superstar,” dual-Olympian Rachel Jarry tweeted about Smith, the daughter of NBL star Darren and an instant fan favourite in the green-and-gold.

Then Mansfield, the diminutive guard who came through North Adelaide Rockets’ junior program and on to WNBL stardom via Adelaide Lightning, SEQ Stars and Canberra Capitals, took over.

Her drive for the second half’s first basket was a wicked move, as was her jumpshot and slick pass to a Maddie Garrick back-cut.

Garrick didn’t see first-half action but followed Snell and Steph Blicavs’ lead by sinking a 3-pointer with her first shot.

A three-point play conversion by Smith pushed the Opals’ lead to 47-22 and the buffer stayed at 25 when Griffin sank a three for 50-25.

Korea swung into a fullcourt press late in the third and suddenly the Opals stumbled, making fairly routine errors against the extended pressure.

Opals coach Olaf Lange subbed the veteran Snell back into the fray as Korea was just starting to feel positive about itself, though still well down 34-54.

Snell immediately showed veteran poise in the backcourt, then iced a 3-pointer 16 seconds from the last break and this effectively was over.

 A mini 8-0 run opened with a Mansfield lay-up,  bolstered by another Garrick 3-pointer and  concluded with a Griffin three-point play,  swelling  the lead to 69-41 midway through the  last.

 It blew out as far as 29 on free throws by Sara  Blicavs for 73-44, Korea’s 10-5 run to the siren  leaving it with some belief ahead of its match  against defending champion Japan tomorrow.

Australia, which swamped the boards for a 46-32 advantage, plays the Philippines at 5:45pm tomorrow (AEST) and will look for sharper floor leadership from Tessa Lavey, who struggled defensively and had four turnovers despite hustling admirably.

Griffin led the Opals with 15 points at 50 per cent and five rebounds in 18 minutes, Smith with 13 at 67 per cent and an equal team-high seven rebounds.

Snell had 11 points and seven boards, Mansfield a game-high five assists and Garrick was super-efficient with 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 14 minutes.

AUSTRALIA 78 (Griffin 15, Smith 13, Snell 11, Garrick 10; Smith, Snell 7 rebs; Mansfield 5 assists; Mansfield 2 stls; Steph Blicavs 1 blk) d KOREA 54 (Sim 11, Park 10; Park 8 rebs; 5 with 1 asst; D Kim 3 stls; Park 1 blk) at Bengaluru Stadium, India.

OPALS POWER: Kelsey Griffin (centre) led all scorers. Pic courtesy FIBA

Jul 23

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