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Opals wait on WNBA for Asian Gold quest

FOUR players will be omitted from the current Chemist Warehouse Opals squad for the 2019 FIBA Asia Cup but where teams sit in their WNBA playoffs will have as big a bearing on selection as form or reputation.

The Australian team's pursuit of the Gold will play out in Bengaluru, India, from September 24 to 29.

Squad members Bec Allen (NY Liberty), Liz Cambage (Las Vegas Aces), Leilani Mitchell (Phoenix Mercury), Steph Talbot (Minnesota Lynx) and Sami Whitcomb (Seattle Storm) are all competing in the WNBA where the regular season will only conclude on Sunday, September 8.

The playoffs tip off on September 11 with the latest possible conclusion on October 10, contingent on how far "best-ofs" series go.

Allen's Liberty are out of contention but Cambage's Aces already have clinched a playoffs berth.

Whitcomb's defending champion Seattle is 15-13, Mitchell's Mercury are 13-13 - which also impacts Opals and Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello - and Talbot's Lynx are are 13-14. 

"With many of our players in the WNBA, and the uncertainty of the playoff seedings at this time, the coaches and I decided to name a squad of 16, with the final team to be announced closer to our departure to Asia Cup and once we know who will be available from the WNBA,” Brondello said.

Australia contested the Asia Cup for the first time in 2017, with Brondello's husband Olaf Lange coaching the Opals to the Final and a 73-74 loss to Japan in that Gold Medal game.

As seems to be a regular occurrence in FIBA finals, Australia did not get the benefit of what should have been a last-gasp foul on Japan as Belinda Snell shot to steal the win.

Looking at the Opals' squad though, a case can be made for every player to make the final roster and perhaps one of the toughest decisions - deciding on which of the two naturalised players Australia can suit under FIBA rules, Whitcomb or Mitchell - may yet be determined by the WNBA playoffs situation.

TOUGH CALL: Leilani Mitchell, left, and Sami Whitcomb, battling for one spot.

Whitcomb was a key player for the Aussies at the 2018 FIBA World Cup in Tenerife while Mitchell was the starting PG for the Opals at the Rio Olympics while also significant in the 2014 FIBA World Cup rotation.

Australia's third naturalised star player, Kelsey Griffin (below), was MVP of the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup and in its All Star Five.

“The Asia Cup is an important tournament and with our limited time together moving forward into the November and February (Tokyo Olympics) qualification, we would like to have our best team together as much as we can," Brondello said.

"While injuries have prevented some players' availability, our depth continues to shine through.

“We feel this squad has the right balance of players in every position in order for us to perform well.”

The Opals are in Group B for the Asia Cup, with seventh-ranked China, perennial cross-Tasman rival New Zealand and the Philippines.

The Opals squad is: Rebecca Allen (New York Liberty), Abby Bishop (JCU Townsville Fire), Sara Blicavs (Southside Flyers), Elizabeth Cambage (Las Vegas Aces), Katie Ebzery (Perth Lynx), Darcy Garbin (JCU Townsville Fire), Cayla George (Deakin Melbourne Boomers), Eziyoda Magbegor (Deakin Melbourne Boomers), Lauren Mansfield (Perth Lynx), Leilani Mitchell (Phoenix Mercury), Lauren Nicholson (Adelaide Lightning), Jenna O'Hea (Southside Flyers), Nicole Seekamp (Adelaide Lightning), Stephanie Talbot (Minnesota Lynx), Marianna Tolo (University of Canberra Capitals), Sami Whitcomb (Seattle Storm).

LIGHTNING'S WNBL LYNX: Adelaide's Steph Talbot in full flight for Minnesota.

Aug 19

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