15/04/2024

Marianna Tolo starred as the Opals managed to overcome Puerto Rico by the required margin to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 quarter finals. (Photo: WNBL/Twitter)

With the help of second half heroics from Marianna Tolo and Cayla George, the Opals will advance to the quarter finals at Tokyo 2020.

In their final group stage match, the Opals flew over the line in the second half to win over the 25-point margin required to advance to the quarter finals. Keep up to date with all the happenings at Tokyo 2020 through The Inner Sanctum’s Olympic hub and Olympic Central.

Both sides were winless coming in, and desperately needed a win to keep their quarter finals dream alive. China sat loftily on top of Group C, Belgium not far behind.

After a poor first two games left the Australian side winless, this game was do or die. Holding a half time lead by just one point, the second half was either set to become heartbreak or history.

There were too many heroes to count.

Marianna Tolo didn’t stop from the first buzzer to the last, a monster double-double from her stuffing the stat sheet with 26 points and 17 rebounds.

Cayla George was remarkable on defence, but wasn’t shy of putting up a score of her own. She finished the night with 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

Jenna O’Hea’s three point shooting was just as crucial as ever, while Leilani Mitchell couldn’t have stopped running if she tried.

For the Puerto Rican side, despite the second half blowout, the loss was a valiant one. Jazmon Gwathmey starred with 26 points and six rebounds.

Read The Inner Sanctum‘s recap of the match as it happened from start to finish.

Opals dulled early

Centre Ezi Magbegor got the Opals off to the perfect start, winning the jump ball. While the Puerto Ricans hit the first three of the game, Magbegor was in action attacking the rim with offensive boards.

The three balls kept flowing, and Puerto Rico found itself eight up before Leilani Mitchell shot the Opals first score with two from the line after five failed attempts.

An unfortunate brain fade by Kate Ebzery left Pamela Rosado wide open for an easy rebound to bring the Puerto Rico lead back to seven. Defence across the right hand side of the three line needed shoring up.

Tolo’s influence off the bench was immediately felt, adding another large presence on defence. She coolly converted the Opals’ first free throws of the game to peg the deficit back to just two.

https://twitter.com/7olympics/status/1422168277929824261?s=20

Ali Gibson’s timely steal threatened to swing the momentum back Puerto Rico’s way as the scores tied 19 a piece, but the Opals regained possession off a foul.

O’Hea’s incredible shooting from the three line was on show, after nearly clutching out the previous group match against China. The Opals trailed 24-22 at the first break.

Tolo and Puerto Rico’s Jennifer O’Neill led the scoring with eight, Tolo also leading rebounds with five.

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George got on the scorecard early in the second, hitting a three after working hard to rebound and set the screen for Ebzery.

The Opals worked hard on defence to shut down Puerto Rico’s set plays and earn two shots from the free throw line. George defended the rim aggressively and earned the board to set up Tessa Lavey for the game-changing three, Australia leading for the first time all game 35-33.

Tolo soon extended the lead to four, but couldn’t take advantage of multiple offensive rebounds to take it out further. Puerto Rico equalised and the Opals soon called their first time out.

Puerto Rico couldn’t stop giving up fouls on defence, giving the Opals four shots at the free throw line which both Bec Allan and Tolo converted with ease. A lay up later and the Puerto Ricans were panicking with another time out, Australia 43-37 up as the tide began to turn.

O’Neill battled hard to get her team back in the game, and Gwathmey drew the foul to bring it back to two points difference. The half-time score read 45-44, Australia with its nose in front.

https://twitter.com/7olympics/status/1422176983044263936?s=20

Second half heroics

Played resumed in the second half and it was sloppy early. Poor handling from Ebzery gave Puerto Rico possession back without even a scoring attempt, but an air ball offered temporary relief.

George’s start to the half breathed some life back into her teammates, notching up a rebound and converting a lay up in a sharp and damaging play. Her bodywork on defence further kept the Puerto Rican assault on the rim at bay.

Needing to make up a lead of 25 to qualify through to the quarter finals, the play started to become more and more desperate from Australia. It showed in the shooting, no one able to convert any of their scoring attempts for a good two minute period.

Puerto Rico’s Gwathmey was starting to become the difference keeping them, in it, shooting 15 in her 25:33 on court to go with two rebounds and two assists. Barely losing her feet and giving up the ball, her frustration was visible.

Change was needed on the court, and Magbegor offered it as she came back on and converted a clinical lay up without hesitation.

A wrestle under the ring went Australia’s way, George hitting the two on the outside.

Gwathmey began to edge on a bit of foul trouble, giving up her third of the game for a block. Her exasperation was visible, the Opals finding that nine point lead once again.

After Magbegor’s second free throw attempt went awry, a huge offensive board ended up in the hands of George outside the paint. Both herself and Allan made their threes in the throes of the penultimate quarter, and suddenly the benchmark to qualify didn’t look so far away.

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Allan picked up an early foul in the fourth, Gwathmey converting both of her free throws to bring up her scoring to 17.

George took on the challenge of finding the perfect space in between three Puerto Ricans, nailing the physicality required to nail the lay up without giving up an offensive foul.

Ebzery shot her first three of the game after multiple offensive rebounds allowed for plenty of opportunity, but Rosado answered right back. Gwathmey’s clinical free throw action bought it back to a 16 point lead for the Opals.

O’Hea can’t help herself from slotting them outside the paint, and shot her fourth three ball from six attempts to extend the lead to 19. Ebzery could only sink one of her free throws, but an errant long-range Puerto Rico pass made for an easy intercept.

Two turnovers for Puerto Rico in the key couldn’t have been more frustrating with barely over four minutes remaining. Gwathmey continued to fight, a much needed three ball shooting her up as the game’s top scorer with 24.

Back on the court, Magbegor harassed as hard as she could, but couldn’t stop Isalys Quinones from hitting her three to take it back to 16 points difference. After missing a free throw, Magbegor’s steal attempt found Australia back in possession that wasn’t to last.

Mitchell found the intercept, running the ball back down the court. After struggling to find a shooting option, George drained it to make it 22 points the lead. A Tolo lay up soon after made it 24 as a time out was called.

The Opals so close to the margin they needed, hearts were in the mouths of every Australian watching at home. George and Tolo held resolute on defence, regaining possession, running for their lives to the rim. George, the hero, shot the crucial two and drew the foul for good measure.

26 points. George’s free throw bounced clear of the rim, 23.6 on the clock. The Australian defence was too strong as the shot clock disappeared. A final foul was all it took, O’Hea making it a certainty with a 27 point win.

https://twitter.com/7olympics/status/1422191578383360006?s=20

Final score:

Q1Q2Q3Q4
AUS22456896
PRI24445269

Stat leaders:

Points: Tolo (AUS), Gwathmey (PRI) 26
Assists: Mitchell (AUS) 6
Rebounds: Tolo (AUS) 17

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