• Penny Taylor jumps for a basket during a basketball match between Australia and France during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (JAVIER SORIANO/AFP/Getty Images) (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
A phenomenal Penny Taylor masterclass propelled the Opals to an emphatic 89-71 win over France. Zela gives you the low down on Australia’s third victory of Rio 2016.
By
Megan Hustwaite

Source:
Zela
10 Aug 2016 - 1:59 PM  UPDATED 10 Aug 2016 - 2:03 PM

So what happened?

The Opals fronted up to the measuring stick for their biggest test to date in Rio and passed with flying colours.

In commentary for Channel 7, basketball legend Lauren Jackson identified an obvious energy in the Opals warm-up at Youth Arena and they hit the floor with a high tempo and sharp focus, something severely lacking in their opening two fixtures against Brazil and Turkey.

Penny Taylor signalled her intentions early.

On Monday morning against Turkey, it remarkably took Taylor until the 6.59 minute mark of the third quarter to get her first basket but there was no slow start for the Australian captain this time.

Taylor hit the stat sheet in the first 25 seconds, opening scoring in a sign of things to come.

With centre Liz Cambage in early foul trouble, registering two fouls in the opening three and a half minutes, she’d play just 3.35 of the first half as Taylor took the reins and assumed responsibility at both ends.

Australia was ahead 21-19 at quarter time and by half time led by 17 points, the same amount Taylor had amassed in the opening half. She’d continue on her merry way after the major break.

The 35-year-old triple Olympian sunk 31 points and racked up nine assists, three steals and a block in the biggest output by an Australian basketballer at these Games, and one of the most outstanding individual performances by an Opal in recent memory.

The victory was reminiscent of the 2014 World Championships where the Opals won a bronze medal without Cambage, who had sensationally ruptured her Achilles tendon weeks before the tournament, and Taylor, as captain, stepped up, guided Australia and won All-Star Five selection.

Who did what?

Taylor’s haul was the highest individual score by an Opal at the Olympics since Jackson’s 30 points against Russia in Beijing back in 2008.

And while Penny was perfect, she led superbly and bought her team mates into the game allowing them to play crucial support roles.

Given increased opportunity and responsibility, Mariana Tolo stepped up to the challenge, hitting 14 points and grabbing four rebounds in 24 minutes. The 196cm centre, who has enjoyed success and championships playing professionally in France, is one of the feel-good stories of the Opals’ campaign having returned this year from a knee reconstruction.

Cambage’s impact (16 points, seven rebounds) was profound in just 15 minutes court time.

Guard Erin Phillips worked her way into the contest early and finished with nine points and five assists, while Leilani Mitchell dished out five dimes herself.

Playing the four spot, vice-captain Laura Hodges offered a valuable contribution off the bench. Hodges, one of only three Opals to play in the 2012 overtime defeat to France alongside Cambage and Rachel Jarry, provided an experienced head and scored eight points in 22 minutes of court time, her most to date in Rio.

For France, tiny in stature but big in presence, point guard Olivia Epoupa was lively with 15 points, seven rebounds, seven steals and two assists. Sandrine Gruda and Endene Miyem both scored 10 points apiece, captain Isabelle Yacoubou combined seven points with four rebounds and Amel Bouderra dished out four assists.

And what’s next?

The undefeated Opals now quickly turn their focus to the penultimate game of Pool A, a meeting with Japan on Friday morning at 6.45am AEST.

Japan is two-from-three following a first-up 77-73 victory over Belarus to launch their campaign. It went on to beat the host nation Brazil, 82-66, before suffering its maiden loss, a 76-62 defeat to Turkey.

The Opals will carry plenty of form and confidence into their next fixture after accounting for Japan, in Japan, in a three-game series back in May.

On return to national duties, Cambage impressed topping the stat sheet in every game.

She teamed 17 points with eight rebounds in game 1, 20 points and 12 rebounds in game 2 then finished on a high with 26 points, seven rebounds, three steals and three blocks in game 3.

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