The Jayco Australian Opals began their FIBA World Championship defence with a strong 72-47 victory over Canada in the Czech Republic on Thursday.
Coach Carrie Graf has only had her full complement of players together for three days and it showed in parts, as the Aussies allowed the world No.12 Canadian side back into the contest after shooting out to a large lead early in the game at Cez Arena in Ostrava. Canada were within six points early in the third term, but the third-ranked Australians gradually pulled away in the second half, a strong final term seeing the Opals run away with the 25-point win.
Vice-captain Penny Taylor sat for the entire game to rest her back injury and will make a huge difference when she returns to the line-up and there’s no doubt the Opals will improve as the group phase unfolds.
It was captain Lauren Jackson, who only arrived in the Czech Republic on Monday night after helping Seattle win their second WNBA championship, along with Kristi Harrower, who led the way with 13 points apiece.
Kimberley Smith battled hard for the Canadians, finishing with 11 points.
The Opals jumped out of the blocks and seemed likely to dominate their opening game in Group A, using their superior height advantage and quick ball movement to build a 13-1 lead against a Canadian side that seemed totally outclassed.
Graf heavily rotated her players and they smothered their opponents, extending their advantage to 18-3 before Canada found any sort of rhythm.
In the face of some tight Australian defence, Canada’s only points in the first quarter came from the free-throw line until a desperation runner from Teresa Gabriele right on the buzzer closed the gap to 20-12 at the first break.
Gabriele then hit a three-pointer to start the second term to keep Canada in the contest and to their credit the underdogs kept battling away, ending the first half trailing 34-23.
Australia hit a poor 2-of-10 from three-point territory and turned the ball over 10 times in a first-half effort that, apart from the opening five minutes, wouldn’t have thrilled Graf.
The Canadians refused to go away, closing to 34-28 on a three-pointer by Kaela Chapdelaine early in the third quarter and only losing the period 18-15.
The Australians then lifted a notch in the final term, holding the Canadians to just nine points in the final term, while finishing the final quarter with 20 of their own, easing to a 25 point win.
The Opals must now quickly turn their focus towards their next clash tomorrow with Belarus.
The Australia-Canada match will be shown on delay at 12:30PM Friday on FOX SPORTS 3.
Australia 72 (Lauren Jackson 13, Kristi Harrower 13, Jenna O’Hea 8, Liz Cambage 8)
Jordan 47 (Kimberley Smith 11, Janelle Bekkering 5)
1st Q (20-12)
2nd Q (14-11)
3rd Q (18-15)
4th Q (20-9)
2010 FIBA World Championship
Australian Opals Preliminary Round Schedule
Australia v Canada Fri, 24 Sep Replay 12.30pm – 2.00pm FOX SPORTS 3HD & FOX SPORTS 3
Australia v Belarus Fri, 24, Sep LIVE 11.00pm – 1.30am FOX SPORTS 3HD & FOX SPORTS 3
Australia v Belarus Sat, 25 Sep Replay 12.30pm – 2.00pm FOX SPORTS 2HD & FOX SPORTS 2
Australia v China Sat, 25 Sep LIVE 9.00pm – 11.00pm FOX SPORTS 2HD & FOX SPORTS 2
Australia v China Mon, 27 Sep Replay 11.00am – 12.30pm FOX SPORTS 2HD & FOX SPORTS 2
All times AEST