23/04/2024

Ezi Magbegor had a major hand in the Opals victory over Canada. (Photo: Basketball Australia/Twitter)

Ezi Magbegor, Sami Whitcomb and Steph Talbot dragged the Opals over the line in one of the games of the tournament on Monday night.

Their effort has seen Australia through to the quarter-finals of the FIBA Women’s World Cup, with final group positions and match-ups to be decided on Tuesday.

In a game where momentum swung back and forth between the Aussies and Canada, the trio stood up when their team needed them.

It was a much-needed game for Magbegor in particular, who had struggled to get going in the tournament so far. She had a solid game against Mali, finishing with 15 points, but her confidence was clearly sky-high in this outing.

The 23-year-old finished with 16 points (shooting 6/10), seven rebounds, three assists, and most crucial, a massive five blocks.

At her very best in the WNBL and WNBA, Magbegor is impacting games both ways. She’s using her length to trouble opposition bigs inside the paint and drive to the basket, while blocking countless shots at the other end.

That was exactly what she did tonight, in her break-out performance of the tournament.

Spending 28 minutes on court, she was tasked with the unfavourable match-up on Minnesota Lynx forward Natalie Achonwa, while also taking on whoever was unlucky enough to be going for the lay-up on the fast break.

Achonwa did pick up six boards, but didn’t manage much of an offensive presence at all, putting up four points from her four field attempts and two free throws.

Magbegor picked up four of her blocks in the final term, exploding when the Opals desperately needed to quell a big scoring run from Canada.

The Canadians won the third quarter 24-13, with the likes of Kia Nurse and Bridget Carleton hitting their shots constantly. The pair finished with a 3/5 and 3/6 conversion from outside the arc.

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Sami Whitcomb had also been building across the group stage of the tournament, scoring 21 points across the past two games against Mali and Serbia.

But compared to the nervous, pass-first Whitcomb we saw against France, this was a totally different player out on the court tonight.

The 34-year-old took her highest amount of shots in the tournament so far, hitting 5/11 of her field goals, four of which were three-pointers. Two of these came in the final quarter.

Just like Magbegor, we saw Whitcomb at her best. She is a classically calm head from range, and her shot may be close to one of the best in this Opals squad.

But of all the Opals on court, Steph Talbot may have had the most complete performance of anyone.

Spending a team-high 36 minutes on court, her game was staggering in nearly every aspect. She was frustratingly close to a triple-double, finishing with 11 points (4/7), nine rebounds, and eight assists.

It was a fantastic backing up to her performance against Serbia, where she had 10 points, five rebounds and two assists. Alongside Whitcomb, her vision and passing was on fire.

In a game that swung back and forth between quarters, the Opals should take belief away from this match.

A similar match against China at the Tokyo Olympics ended in the opposite result, with a three-point loss. Playing tougher defence, finding shots and changing up the offence when it wasn’t working shows significant growth within the team both in their gameplay and their mentality.

The Opals have qualified for the quarter-finals, and will close out the group stage against Japan on Tuesday, with tip-off at 8:30 AEST.

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