So what happened?
It sure wasn’t pretty to begin with but the Opals got to work, blossomed and registered their first win of Rio 2016, beating the host nation, 84-66, at Youth Arena.
The Brazilians came out firing and riding an incredible wave of deafening noise, thriving atmosphere and support from a patriotic and colourful home crowd.
The only thing hotter in the stadium was Brazil’s shooting, going at jaw dropping 85 per cent at one stage of the term. Unable to settle quickly, Australia trailed 24-14 at quarter time but remained in the contest following 10 opening-term points from centre Liz Cambage who stamped her authority on the game early.
Despite falling 12 points behind early in the second quarter, the Opals rallied and reeled in the deficit to four points, 39-35, at half time.
The Opals returned to the court after the major break more composed and polished on offence and went on to outscore Brazil 21-12. While scoring themselves they were able to curb the influence of Brazilian captain Iziane Castro who was proving a major headache with 18 points to half time. Australian captain Penny Taylor set the tone for her team and led it to a 57-53 advantage at three quarter time.
Pocket rocket point guard Leilani Mitchell made sure the budding momentum spilled into the fourth quarter when she sunk a triple in the opening seconds. At the other end of the height spectrum, centre Cayla George, one of Australia’s seven Games debutants, created some highlights of her own late in the game hitting three triples in nine minutes.
The Opals seized control in the last stanza outscoring and outclassing Brazil, 27-13, to launch their campaign with an important victory. This win was the Opals sixth straight over Brazil at an Olympic Games.
Who did what?
Well not surprisingly superstar Cambage did plenty! Australia’s 203cm x-factor dominated with a 20-point-14 rebound double-double, scored regularly, battled for her boards and kept her team in the contest then propelled it to victory.
Cambage’s early tournament touch was no more evident than late in the second term when she bought the ball up the floor, going coast to coast to score her 16th point of the game.
The 24-year-old also won praise from retired Opals legend Lauren Jackson, in commentary for Channel 7, her efforts: “Liz has dominated and shown she’s a force to be reckoned with. Expect to see this every night.”
Taylor scored 17 points, led by example and got busy on offence particularly when the game was in the balance, while Mitchell was lively scoring 18 points and dishing out six assists.
For Brazil, Castro was the shining light with a game-high 25 points, five rebounds and two assists, Clarissa dos Santos grabbed 13 boards, Damiris Dantas finished with 11 points, eight rebounds and Adriana Moises racked up seven assists.
And what’s next?
The Opals now quickly turn their focus to tomorrow morning’s battle with Turkey. Tip-off is again at 6.30am AET time. Turkey suffered a first-up defeat to France, 55-39, on the opening day of competition.
The Australians last defeated Turkey on the international stage back in 2014 to claim bronze at the FIBA World Championships in Turkey. Marianna Tolo registered a game-high 21 points, hitting eight of 11 from the field, in the last meeting between the sides and finished as Australia’s top-scorer for the tournament.
Australia play Turkey at 6.30am AEST on August 8.