After a disappointing first-round loss to France, the Aussies were determined to bounce back.
Mali who is playing in only their second World Cup in its history started well with a 10-2 run. Unfortunately for Mali, the rest of the game went the home country’s way with little resistance shown by the Malian squad.
During game one against France, the Opals found it difficult to score from their high on-ball screens and made little changes to their offence. They seemed to find themselves in difficult shooting situations and finished the game with 26 per cent from the field.
The coaching staff led by head coach Sandy Brondello made several adjustments from Game one, most noticeably focusing on getting the ball inside the paint.
After a slow start, Lauren Jackson and Marianna Tolo came on and provided the basketball IQ and calmness the Opals needed, spurring the team to a 17 to zero run.
Tolo continued where she left off from game one with her energy and effort. Her ability to roll hard off on ball screens or slip off horns action gave her teammates a great target in the paint. Combined with her hunger for the contest, Tolo had clean hands, creating opportunities for her teammates with some nice dimes.
Lauren Jackson turned back the clock with some strong moves inside which put her on the foul line.
At the age of 41 – it was expected that Jackson would be rested against the lower-ranked teams, however, the importance of getting off to a good start against Mali was too important and saw Jackson earn some early and important minutes.
The combination of Tolo (12 points) and Jackson (8 points) was stark with the ex-Canberra Capitals teammates looking for each other and scoring from high-low options or passing to each other at the dunkers’ spot in the key.
The Opals entered the first quarter break up by 11 and comfortably in control. They were never challenged by Mali who struggled to score after their hot start.
As good as the Opals’ offence was, Mali started to tire defensively as the game wore on, giving up a massive 118 points.
The change for the Opals to get the ball inside not only created high percentage looks for the bigs but created better scoring opportunities for the shooters. The Opals’ long-range shooting was on display draining 18 threes with several players with hot hands including Cayla George who hit four from deep.
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It wasn’t just on the offensive end where we saw changes from game one. The Opals went into a 2-2-1 half-court press out of foul shots, which disrupted Mali’s offensive flow. With defence emphasized by Brondello in the lead-up to the World Cup, it was great to see some change-up and flexibility on the defensive end, which was something we didn’t see against France in game one.
Anneli Maley was the only player not to play in game one but got an opportunity in the second quarter in game two and had an immediate impact with her energy on defence and the boards.
All 12 players hit the floor for the Opals with every player having an impact on the offensive end and seven players scoring in double digits.
There is no doubt the Opals will take great confidence from their dominant display against Mali as they have a rest before facing a much tougher opponent in Serbia on Sunday.
The question remains will Brondello change the starting lineup considering the slow starts in games one and two or will she back her starting five in to have the impact they need?
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