The Australian Jayco Opals have sent an ominous message to start the elimination group stage of the FIBA World Championship of basketball, routing Greece 93-54 in the Czech Republic.
The Greeks had shown some decent form in the first group stage, with fighting losses to the United States and France, but were simply out-gunned by a rampant Australian side keen to stamp their authority on the tournament.
Lauren Jackson was back to her usual self after a slow start to the tournament, finishing with 20 points and 12 rebounds, while Liz Cambage also found plenty of space against the undersized Greeks to add 20 points and six boards of her own.
Zoi Dimitrakou and Styliani Kaltsidou led the way with 10 points each for the disappointing Greek side.
The Opals made a breathtaking start, suffocating Greece when they were in possession and sticking perfectly to their game plan to vault to a 25-5 lead seven minutes into the first quarter.
After less than one term it appeared the Greeks already had their minds on their next match against Canada on Tuesday.
Captain Evanthia Maltsi, who went into the game averaging a tournament-high 23.3 points per game, was targeted by Opals coach Carrie Graf in her planning, and was subsequently restricted to just one shot and zero points in the first quarter. Maltsi finished the game with just nine points.
It seemed Australia were going to ring up a cricket score, but Greece’s reserves managed to drag them back into the contest, producing a 10-2 run to end the opening term trailing 27-15.
It was only a temporary respite, however, with the Opals immediately re-asserting their dominance with another outstanding start to the second quarter.
With Jackson heavily involved, Australia outscored the Europeans 15-3 to surge to a 42-18 advantage. Greece went more than four minutes without scoring and managed just nine points in a dismal quarter, ending an inept half trailing 56-24.
Rebounding was another of Graf’s main messages to her team prior to the game and they responded with a commanding 30-12 edge on the boards at halftime.
After such a one-sided first half, the Opals took their foot off the pedal somewhat early in the third quarter and Greece began to assert themselves finding some rhythm offensively. But slowing down the Opals is a much bigger task, and the Aussies still won the quarter 16-13 to take their lead out to 72-37 entering the final term.
Graf kept her starters in the game to start the final term and the message was clear – crank the defence and finish the game strong. She asked that the Opals defence keep the Greeks below 50 for the contest. Although a couple of long-range jumpshots saw the Greek team hit the half century mark late in the game, the procession continued right untill the final buzzer, with the Opals notching their highest score of the tournament so far.
The Opals continue to impress from the field, shooting almost 50 per cent inside the three-point line. But it was the rebounding stat that was perhaps as devastating as the final score, with the Aussies pulling down 58 boards to just 22 for the Greeks.
It’s this domination inside and out that has the Opals growing with confidence moving into tomorrow night’s clash with France. It’s a game the Opals will want to come out just as aggressively, as Wednesday’s showdown with Team USA is a game the Opals will want to move into with supreme confidence.
Australia 93 (Lauren Jackson 20 points, 12 rebounds; Liz Cambage 20 points)
Greece 54 (Styliani Kaltsidou 10, Zoi Dimitrakou 10)
2010 FIBA World Championship
Australian Opals Elimination Round Schedule
Sept 28 v France, 6pm (2.00am Wednesday, AEST)
Sept 29 v United States, 8.15pm (4.15am Thursday, AEST)
All times AEST