20/04/2024

Marianna Tolo played another important role in the Opals fourth consecutive win at the 2022 FIBA Women's World Cup. (Photo: Basketball Australia/Twitter)

The Opals’ size proved too big of a challenge for Japan, grinding their way to the top of Group B on Tuesday night, and head into the quarter-finals full of confidence.

Marianna Tolo, Ezi Magbegor, and Cayla George set the standard throughout the night and ensured Australia finished at the top of the group. It means Australia won’t have to face the USA until the finals, should the pair advance that far

In a game that was a defensive grind for both sides with Australia and Japan not giving each other an inch, it was the quartet that turned the game to the Aussies’ advantage.

Tolo has been one of the Opals’ best players throughout the entire group stage. Since being inserted into the starting line-up, the 33-year-old has brought energy and had a massive impact on both ends of the floor.

Head coach Sandy Brondello has shown she’s not afraid to make changes, moving the starting five around in the last two games. She made another change to the line-up, moving Ezi Magbegor into the starting five after her breakout game against Canada which shifted Cayla George to the bench.

The starting five of Sara Blicavs, Sami Whitcomb, Steph Talbot, and the twin towers of Magbegor and Tolo gave Australia the flexibility of keeping its height but also giving it more of an athletic look against a small and quick Japan team.

The Magbegor and Tolo connection worked brilliantly early, with the pair causing headaches for the Japanese early.

In the first half, Australia wasn’t as switched on defensively as its shown previously in the tournament. On several occasions, the Opals’ were caught in two minds, whether to stay with their player or go help a teammate, which left Japan with wide-open shots or lanes to the basket.

Japan’s Monica Okoye took full advantage of the Opals’ defence in the first half, making them pay. She would end the game with 14 points with three made shots from beyond the arc.

It wasn’t only Okoye causing problems for Australia in the first half, teammate Stephanie Mawuli caught the Aussies off guard as they sent her to the foul line on a couple of occasions.

Despite being off defensively, the Opals still took a two-point lead into the half. In the second half, the Opals turned their defensive pressure up, not giving the Japanese any time and space.

While it kept the pressure up defensively, in came Cayla George – who coming off the bench played a massive role, helping Australia outscore Japan, 20-9 in the quarter.

The 33-year-old hasn’t had the tournament she hoped, but she was massive in the third quarter, scoring seven of her nine points, including a buzzer-beater to extend her side’s lead.

The Opals fought off a mini fightback from Japan in the last quarter to secure a 17-point victory and finish the group stage on a four-game win streak.

The Opals have a rest day on Wednesday before they face Belgium in the quarter-finals on Thursday night, with tip-off at 8:30pm.

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