16/04/2024
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The Opals defeated Team USA in their only exhibition game before Tokyo 2020. Photo: Basketball Australia

In their only exhibition game before Tokyo 2020, the Opals have made a huge statement against the number one ranked Team USA in Las Vegas.

In their only exhibition game before Tokyo 2020, the Opals have made a huge statement against the number one ranked Team USA in Las Vegas.

It was a terrific comeback win after trailing by 13 points at the main break. Australia fought tirelessly to close the margin late in the third before pulling ahead in the fourth quarter and winning 70-67.

These are the five key takeaways from the Opals win over Team USA as we near Tokyo 2020.

1. The Opals can do it without Liz Cambage

The Opals are without WNBA superstar Liz Cambage who recently pulled out of Tokyo 2020. She is one of the most dominant basketballers on the planet, standing at six-foot-eight (204 cm) and has a decorated career with four WNBA All-Star appearances, including last week.

Coming into the Olympics, pundits expected the game-plan to involve getting the ball down to Cambage at the low block and spacing out for her.

With no focal point of the offence, the Opals have in some ways become even more dangerous.

The depth of the squad came to the fore to minimise the loss, with rebounding by committee the vital component.

In the first half, the US won the rebound count 27-16. When that evened up in the second half, the Opals got the same amount of shots and were able to mount their incredible comeback.

Defensively, their switchability is a huge bonus with Cambage not on the court. There are obvious negatives without our greatest player since Lauren Jackson, but the Opals are making it work without her.

2. This team will never say never

The Opals were down and out for all money at half-time. Trailing 41-28, the 13-point margin seemed a bridge too far. But at no point did a player on this team drop their head.

In the third quarter, they clamped down defensively, keying in on Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart with switches and defensive versatility. They only caused three turnovers in the first half, but made the US turn it over on repeat possessions and narrowed the margin to five at three quarter time.

In the fourth, Opals’ point guard and Washington Mystics star Leilani Mitchell got them running offensively.

They started to stretch the floor with skip passes and quick cuts to the paint. Bec Allen ran the floor better than anyone else, while Ezi Magbegor showed off her quickness to breeze by defenders.

By the eight-minute mark of the fourth, the Opals had hit the front thanks to a 20-6 run, and they refused to relinquish the lead down the stretch.

In Olympic and World Cup competition, Team USA is 17-0 against Australia historically.

That record will mean nothing if they go up against each other in Japan.

3. Ezi Magbegor will soon be a household name

With no Liz Cambage, 21-year-old Eziyoda Magbegor took the tip-off for the Opals. She was dominant with a team-high 17 points, five rebounds and three steals.

Playing for the Seattle Storm in the WNBA, there are flashes of the legendary Lauren Jackson in the six-foot-four forward/centre’s game.

Against the USA she showcased her capacity in the pick-and-roll, swooping to the basket and receiving well-timed passes from Leilani Mitchell. She can also fade the screen and fire off threes from the top of the arc.

It’s a mix of brilliant skill, other-worldly athleticism and an appetite to be better at just 21 years old that could see her become the next great Australian basketballer.

With no Cambage for the Opals, Magbegor may be their most important player at Tokyo 2020.

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4. Opals live and die by the three

Australia burst out of the gates with a flurry of distance shots, hitting five of their 10 attempts in the first quarter. It coincided in a hard fought, even contest.

In the second, Team USA broke away from the Opals and it came about through Australia’s shooting. Just one of their nine three point attempts dropped.

In the second half, the Opals didn’t go away from it. They kept shooting from distance and it pegged the margin back substantially, with Allen hitting a brilliant shot as time dwindled in the third quarter to close the gap to just five points.

It’s a clear point of emphasis for the Opals, who have a plethora of shooters in their rotation.

5. Team USA is vulnerable

It seems crazy that a team aiming for their seventh straight Olympics Gold medal is susceptible to a loss at Tokyo 2020, but the Opals have proven that this team can be defeated.

This is a side including Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, who are both in search of an historic fifth Gold medal. Between them, they have six WNBA titles and 22 All-Star appearances. But with experience comes age, and the Opals ran them ragged in the second half. They simply couldn’t go with the likes of Allen, Mitchell and Magbegor.

The Opals have laid the blueprint. Switchability and tenacity on defence, fast ball movement and the green light from three on offence.

It’s easier said than done, but the Australian Opals can genuinely take home Gold at Tokyo 2020.

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