24/04/2024

Team USA and the Opals went head to head in the Tokyo 2020 quarter-finals. Photo: NBA Australia

Breanna Stewart has led Team USA to a commanding 79-55 victory over the Opals in the quarter-finals of the women's basketball at Tokyo 2020.

Breanna Stewart has led Team USA to a commanding 79-55 victory over the Opals in the quarter-finals of the women’s basketball at Tokyo 2020. For all your Tokyo 2020 coverage, stay tuned to The Inner Sanctum’s Olympic hub and the Olympics Central.

The Australian Opals were dubbed the Comeback Queens after their heroics in the final group stage game. Needing to win by 25 points to advance, they rattled off a huge last quarter to win by 27 over Puerto Rico and book a date with the all-conquering Team USA in the quarter-finals.

It’s a do-or-die stage of the Olympics, with the loser going home and the winner advancing to a semi-final stage and a guaranteed medal match.

Team USA have won the past five gold medals at the Olympics in women’s basketball, but the Opals were coming in with the confidence of playing their best basketball last game out, and defeating this side in an exhibition game prior to Tokyo 2020.

The Opals drew blood first through Cayla George, who has been sensational all tournament. It was evident from the out-set that the Opals were going to get out and run, using the vision of Leilani Mitchell and athleticism of Ezi Magbegor and Katie Ebzery to beat Team USA down the floor.

Some heads up play from the likes of Dianna Taurasi and Breanna Stewart helped the US force turnovers early into the Opals’ shot clock, which resulted in easy shots at the other end. Australia was forced into a time-out after conceding its sixth turnover and facing a 16-6 deficit four minutes into the first term.

Out of the break, Team USA really got on a roll. Taurasa was damaging from the outside, while Sue Bird was as classy as ever as she ran off screens to find herself open repeatedly.

On the other end, the Opals couldn’t get their offence going with Mitchell bailing them out of bad sets with multiple threes. The US defence was swarming on the pick and roll, forcing bad passes and turnovers from the ball handler. They would trail at the first change 12-26.

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Breanna Stewart was proving a problem for the Opals, stretching the floor when matched up with bigger opponents and taking advantage inside when she had a smaller defender on her. At the halfway point of the second term, she had 14 points on five-of-six shooting, and the lead had become 37-23 for Team USA.

When George picked up her third foul and was forced to sit for the remainder of the quarter, the Opals were forced into some different offensive sets. Once again, Stewart proved the biggest factor denying the Opals, scoring an aggressive 20 points on seven-of-eight shooting in the first half.

Despite Mitchell’s great shooting from deep, good looks inside remained few and far between, with Magbegor and Marianna Tolo unable to get the better of the bigs.

Stewart had 20 for the US while Mitchell was the Opals’ top scorer with nine points.Team USA led by 21 at half-time, with the score being 48-27 in the do-or-die quarter-final.

Team USA outshines Opals

It was again the Mitchell and Stewart show on opposing sides, with the Opals benefitting from the point guard’s hot streak from downtown, while Team USA was able to keep them at bay with an incredible performance from one of their all-time greats.

six-foot-eight centre Brittney Griner was starting to dominate in the paint in the third term, blocking shots and rebounding well on the defensive end, but then getting good looks in the post offensively and ending with 10 points in the period.

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Team USA had extended its lead to 68-39 by the final change, and the game was all but lost with the world number ones proving too strong.

The Opals wouldn’t give up, though. In the early stages of the final term, Opals captain Jenna O’Hea put her body on the line, taking the charge and wearing the full-force of the courageous act. She was subbed off after the heavy collision in a really inspiring play.

It gave the Opals a boost, and they came out to win the quarter. Tess Lavey got an extended run and scored her first points for the game, while the 21-year-old Magbegor continued to show her incredible potential, taking it right up to the Team USA bigs, who are the very best in the world.

It was incredibly emotional scenes at the buzzer, with Team USA sealing the Opals fate at Tokyo 2020 with a 79-55 quarter-final win.

The United States will go on to play Serbia in the semi-final, with expectations being that they win another gold medal to extend their golden run at the Olympics.

For the Opals, their run at Tokyo 2020 comes to an end. Team USA proved a bridge too far for the second ranked side in the world, but the side has done the nation proud to even make the knockout stage given their start to the campaign.

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