Cayla George with a incredible touch around the rim against Belgium. (Image: Basketball Australia Twitter)

The Australian Opals pick and roll offence proved too much for Belgium, seeing them advance to the semi-finals as a tough opponent heading into the deeper stages of the FIBA Women’s World Cup.

Australia scored 86 points against Belgium, its most in an elimination game in the Women’s World Cup since 2006 against Russia in the final.

Marianna Tolo, Lauren Jackson and Cayla George set the tone and style of play for the Opals, with their scoring and versatility in playing defence.

George showed how important she is coming off the bench, being one of the leading scorers for the Opals in a must-win game. Multiple of her baseline jump shots went it with ease, combining with her excellent off-ball movement to finish with 19 points and nine rebounds.

Tolo stood out in the game, rolling and moving to her spots for easy points in the paint and playing defence on Belgium’s forwards by being a quality rim protector.

Jackson was also a standout in the limited minutes she played, playing on both sides of the court and in transition, as well as spacing out the floor with three-point shots on top of the key. Jackson’s play helped maintain the energy and confidence of her team with a big lead.

The starting five of Sara Blicavs, Sami Whitcomb, Steph Talbot, Ezi Magbegor and Tolo gave Australia the ability to mix its play between the pick and roll offence and playing in transition on the fast-break.

It also gave the nation the size to defend Belgium and counter the mix of Kyara Linskens’ touch around the rim and the shifty guard play.

In the first half, after Belgium started with two threes, Australia went on a 13-point run that set the tone early for the game.

Offensively, the Opals killed the Cats with the screens from Tolo, taking advantage of mismatches and adapting. Defensively, they kept Belgium away from the rim and forced it to play around the three-point line.

The fast break play from the Opals also had the Belgium defence in a constantly moving pace, keeping the Cats fatigued and not making the right reads in their matchups and zone coverage. 

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Belgium struggled to play in a half-court setting against the Opals, playing its best when players can keep the ball moving and beat their defender on the ball with their jab step and quick shots from deep.

Their shot selection consisted of contested shots and forcing shots up as the Opals were gaining a double-digit lead.

The guard play from Belgium was hard for the Opals to defend, getting by for wide-open layups and shooting threes in crucial moments. It allowed the Cats to cut down the massive lead the Opals had built over the course of the game.

Belgium’s Julie Allemand scored 15 points, her career-high in the Women’s World Cup, and totalled 87 World Cup assists, 27 more than any other player since her debut in 2018.

Talbot took control of the playmaking for the Opals, dishing nine assists, tying the highest amount of assists recorded for an Australian player in a Women’s World Cup since Penny Taylor in 1994.

The Opals’ most significant lead took place in the second half, only conceding 11 points in the third quarter and being up by 24 points early in the fourth. 

They controlled the game for its entirety and never looked back once they had the lead and were able to play their brand of basketball. 

The Opals will face China after a massive win over France in the semi-final on Friday night, with tip-off at 7:30pm on Friday.

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