Cometh the hour, cometh Cambage
With Australia trailing Japan by 16 points and a jaw-dropping upset on the cards, the 203cm centre bundled the Opals on to her broad shoulders and single-handedly dragged them to a 92-85 victory.
The 24-year-old had 19 points to her name at three quarter time before pouring in 18 in a dramatic final quarter as she outscored Japan by three points.
Cambage’s incredible haul featured a tournament-high 37 points (at 76 per cent, 16 of 21 from the field), 10 rebounds, three blocks and two assists.
Earlier, the world no.16 side burst out of the blocks with its speedy guards setting the tone for a disciplined display, quick ball movement and outstanding offence. Japan hurt the Opals on the pick and roll time and time again on the way to establishing a 24-23 quarter, then 50-48 half-time advantage
Japan continued to reap the rewards of structured plays, quick ball movement and efficient perimeter shooting in the third term and swung the momentum even more firmly in its favour.
An impressive 21-11 run set up a 14-point three-quarter time lead on the back of 67 per cent shooting from the field. The Opals, meanwhile, were struggling at 35 per cent.
A boilover was on the cards at Youth Arena and the Opals needed a hero.
Play resumed and Australia was suddenly behind 77-61 with eight minutes and 13 seconds remaining in the game.
Enter Cambage who would guide her side home courtesy of a 33-15 ambush.
With 1.13 left on the clock and Australia up 84-83, Cambage made her presence felt on the defensive end when she sensationally blocked Ramu Tokashiki.
At the other end, guard Erin Phillips nailed a free-throw, then missed the second, but the Opals maintained possession before captain Penny Taylor hit a three to extend the lead to 88-83.
An Asami Yoshida three-pointer reduced the margin to two points with 41 seconds to go before Cambage and Marianna Tolo sealed the come-from-behind result from the free-throw line.
In the end Cambage towered over and monstered Japan and it showed on the stat sheet as the Opals scored 50 of their 92 points in the paint.
Who did what?
Cambage etched herself into the record books with the third highest haul by a female basketballer in Olympic history.
Her heroic tally, which came in just 25 minutes and 22 seconds of court time, fell just two points shy of the women’s Games scoring record of 39 set by Bulgaria’s Evladiya Slavcheva in Seoul in 1988. Cambage’s display matched that of Russian forward Elena Baranova, who registered 37 points against Japan, in Atlanta back in 1996.
While Cambage was simply dominant a host of other Opals made telling contributions.
Leilani Mitchell ( 18 points, seven assists, six rebounds and a steal) built on her valuable form, kicked started the Opals in the final stanza with a steal and drained triples when her team was crying out for them.
Taylor ( 13 points, seven assists, six rebounds) scored some clutch baskets despite being double and triple teamed throughout, centre Tolo (10 points, eight rebounds, three assists) continues to make her mark on the tournament and has proved she is in Australia's starting five, while Erin Phillips (six points, three assists, two steals) sparked the Opals on offence.
Japan’s success within the game was on the back of an array of scorers led by Seattle Storm power forward Tokashiki who topped her team’s stat sheet with 23 points and seven rebounds. Mika Kurihara teamed 20 points with eight rebounds, Sanae Motokawa added 12 points and Maki Takada 10, while point guard Yoshida was critical to Japan’s ball movement, setting the tempo and dishing out 11 assists, scoring nine points and grabbing five boards.
And what’s next?
Following today’s dramatic comeback the Opals are sitting pretty at the top of Group A, undefeated on four wins, ahead of Sunday morning’s final pool game against Belarus.
Belarus, meanwhile, has experienced a crop of nail biting results, losing to Japan, 77-73, in the opener before falling a point short of France, 73-32, in a thriller.
It broke through for its maiden win in Rio when it edged out Brazil, 65-63, on Tuesday then suffered another close loss, this time to Turkey, 74-71, on Thursday.