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Opals like 'bulls in a China shop'


NOT even the great wall of China's best defenders could stop Liz Cambage and the Opals tonight from storming into the FIBA Women's World Cup semi finals.

Just one more win away from a guaranteed medal in Tenerife, Spain, Australia played an immaculate defensive game to hold China to a seven-point first quarter, an 18-point first half and an eight-point final period.

Even when China rallied briefly in the third period, Australia still ultimately outscored it 19-16, holding it to 29 per cent shooting for the match, smashing it on the boards 49-30 while forcing 20 turnovers.

Cambage again turned the keyway into her own private party, finishing with game highs in points (20 at 56 per cent), rebounds (9) and blocks (3), with two steals to boot in just 19:05 of action.

Bec Allen (pictured) had her best night of the tournament, with 16 points, three rebounds, an assist and two steals.

But there were unsung heroines too, Steph Talbot playing an exceptional defensive game, complemented by three steals and 2-of-2 triple attempts.

Katie-Rae Ebzery ran the team with growing confidence and captain Jenna O'Hea entered the fray after a long delay with a calf strain and immediately was impactful.

It was at the defensive end where the Aussies were relentless, their rotations often impeccable, then rewarded offensively with slick and unselfish ball movement for open baskets.

The Opals' intentions were clear on the first play when Cambage blocked a shot and Allen stroked a 3-pointer to open the scoring.

And there it was, the simple formula of defence initiating offence, Cambage with a second block in the first two minutes and Allen with a second triple.

Cambage was fouled off the ball on the same play, then drove to the hoop on the extra possession for a 10-5 lead.

Allen's breakaway basket took the buffer to 14-5 forcing a China timeout.

Xu Han brought China to 7-14 at 4:36 ... and that was its last score for the first quarter!

The Opals were fierce defensively, forcing the first of two first-half 24-second violations as Sami Whitcomb (left) exploded on the break for 18-7.

With her first touch, O'Hea drove baseline for a sweet reverse and Alanna Smith with a left hand shot made it a 10-0 run to the first break and 24-7 lead.

Australia shot at 56 per cent and held China to 18 per cent, Allen and Cambage with 18 points between them.

The duo opened the second period with Cambage scoring and Allen sticking two free throws, the unanswered run out to 14-0 before a Chinese basket at 8:10 in the second.

Cayla George immediately struck a 3-pointer in response before a jumpshot and bonus free throw by Ebzery pushed it to 34-11.

Alex Bunton made it 36-11 ahead of a brief China run of consecutive buckets. That brought an Opals timeout and baskets to Allen, Ezi Magbegor and Smith to close the half with Australia ahead 42-18, Cambage and Allen with 12 points apiece.

The margin blew out still further after the break when Talbot fed a sweet Cambage back-cut before draining one of her threes.

Cambage then went coast-to-coast after a defensive rebound, was fouled and took timeout herself to help mop the floor in the keyway (right) before swishing a free throw.

But with the margin burgeoning out to 48-18 the Opals committed three consecutive turnovers as China enjoyed a few minutes of respite mid-quarter.

Unable to get a few subs in when she wanted, Opals coach Sandy Brondello eventually sent five on to replace the active quintet - something you sure don't often see at this level.

China pulled back to 34-54 before Magbegor, Talbot and Co concluded the quarter on a 7-0 run.

A 3-pointer by Talbot to start the fourth after a steal, bumped the lead back to 64-34 and China had few answers from there.

All 12 Opals scored in what clearly was Australia's best win of the tournament, the result stacking up well against the USA's 100-88 Group-level success over China earlier in the championship.

The Americans pulled away from Nigeria 71-40 to keep their semi final appointment against the overnight winner of the Belgium-France quarter-final.

AUSTRALIA OPALS 83 (Cambage 20, Allen 16, Talbot, Bunton 8; Cambage 9 rebs; Talbot 5 assts) d CHINA 42 (Li 12, Shao 7; Li, Han 6 rebs; Wang 3 assts).

KEY FORCE: Steph Talbot, landed awkwardly on her ankle late. All pics courtesy FIBA.com

Sep 28

Content, unless otherwise indicated, is © copyright Boti Nagy.