So what happened?
Australia pulled out its Get Out of Jail card and waved it all the way to a 61-56 win over Turkey in its Group A clash at Youth Arena.
Continuing on from yesterday’s first-up game against Brazil, the Opals fell behind again early after a sluggish start and trailed by three points at the end of both the first and second quarters.
The Opals lacked efficiency, shooting at 23 per cent from the three point line (6/24) and at 37 per cent from the field, and found themselves in foul trouble as superstar centre Liz Cambage (four fouls) was forced to sit out extended periods as was fellow big Marianna Tolo.
When Cambage was on court she was the overwhelming difference. She drained seven straight points to propel Australia to a 43-41 advantage after the third stanza.
The Opals conjured 21 points from its bench thanks to lively contributions from guards Katie Rae-Ebzery (11 points, three rebounds, two assists) and Tessa Lavey (six points, three assists, three rebounds) which swung the momentum particularly in the second term. The ugly contest held a mirror to the Opals’ flaws and warranted the concern of spectators, particularly when Cambage was off the court. Ultimately Australia did enough to hit the front, and then prevail, but it has plenty of work ahead and improvement to make as it chases an elusive Olympic gold medal.
Who did what?
Cambage’s star quality was on display for all to see once again as she dominated for the second consecutive day with a team-high 22 points (shooting 9-of-16 from the field and 4-of-5 from the free-throw line) and 10 rebounds. The 24-year-old’s numbers even more impressive because she amassed them in just under 23 minutes court time.
Point guard Leilani Mitchell (11 points, three rebounds, three assists) also registered double figures.
In a rare display, captain Penny Taylor didn’t score until 6.59 remaining in the third quarter, she finished with just five points, shooting 1-of-7 from the floor, while guard Erin Phillips failed to score as she missed all five of her field goal attempts.
For Turkey, Lara Sanders was the obvious stand out with a game-high 25 points and seven boards. Sanders, Nevriye Yilmaz (14 points) and Isil Alben (13 points) combined for 52 of Turkey’s points. The rest of the team conjured just four points.
And what’s next?
After two scrappy wins over lesser-ranked opponents, a sizeable challenge lays ahead for the Opals in the form of world No.4 side France on Wednesday morning (1.15am AEST).
And Brendan Joyce’s team will need to bring its best basketball.
Australia was beaten by France 58-50, during its warm-up tour of Europe back in June. The Aussies got out to a 17-10 lead at the first break but were outscored 15-8 in the second before France produced a 13-4 second-half run to set up victory.
Mitchell and Cambage were the Opals’ only players who scored in double figures with 11 apiece.
In the penultimate Olympic warm-up game in Connecticut on July 29, the Opals turned the tables and got home, 76-67, on the back of Phillips’ 20 points and five assists.
Back in London, when the teams last met on the Olympic stage, France was victorious in overtime, 74-70, in a game for the ages.
Veteran Opal Belinda Snell sensationally sent the game into extra time with an incredible shot from beyond the half-court. With Lauren Jackson and Cambage in foul trouble in the 2012 fixture, Suzy Batkovic stepped up to lead the Opals with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
The defeat ultimately relegated Australia to a bronze medal outcome.
Jackson last week told Zela she believes the Opals would have won if they had Phillips in the line-up.