Cayla George and Lauren Jackson celebrate the Opals' win over Serbia. (Photo: Basketball Australia/Twitter)

In a tough defensive grind for two teams that had plenty to play for in Pool B, the Opals claimed a pivotal victory over Serbia, improving their record to 2-1 for the tournament and their chances of progressing to the knockout stages round.

Leading into the match, there were plenty of headlines written about the two teams’ building rivalry after the Serbians knocked the Opals out of the Rio Olympics and qualifying games earlier this year.

Australia was able to seek revenge in the third game of the tournament, going hard on the defensive end and playing its best basketball out of its campaign.

It wasn’t without its casualties though, with star players Bec Allen and Sami Whitcomb leaving the court. Allen was clutching her side after going for a contest for the ball, whilst Whitcomb copped a facial injury, with a suspected broken nose.

The Opals turned it on in the early stages of the first quarter, forcing the Serbians into tough offensive shots and forcing plenty of unforced turnovers. They brought the pressure and intensity, pushing the tempo down the court, combining for a total of five shot clock violations and going into the quarter-time break with an eight-point lead, 18-10.

The Serbians came out of the blocks after this though, scoring the first five points of the quarter, forcing the Opals into two uncharacteristic turnovers.

Whitcomb was a shining light coming out of the timeout. The Australians found their range from the three-point line, and the brilliance of their offensive plays forced the Serbians to call a timeout, looking to control the game on their terms and get stops defensively.

Whilst Yvonne Anderson got going for the Serbians, looking to find composure, the Opals kept their own, working the ball offensively and maintaining an eight-point lead at halftime, 36-28.

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One key category that the Opals had dominated was the offensive rebounds, leading 16-14. Whilst the physicality was in favour of the Opals, Anderson continued to put the pressure on.

The second half belonged to the Opals, limiting Anderson’s shooting and the Serbians offensively.

Several players stepped up for the Opals, with four finishing with double figures. Allen finished with a player of the match performance before her injury, with 16 points, five rebounds, two steals and two blocks whilst Marianna Tolo and Lauren Jackson were instrumental off the bench in the centre position.

Steph Talbot provided energy and well-needed scoring punch, lighting it up and finishing the match with 10 points, five rebounds, two assists and three blocks.

For the Serbians, Sasa Cado and Anderson were the top scorers. Cado finished with 12 points and four steals, whilst Anderson was the top scorer, finishing with 16 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and two steals.

The Opals’ next match will be up against Canada on Monday night at 8:30pm, whilst Serbia will face Mali on Tuesday.

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