• The Australian Opals left reeling as in the background Serbia celebrate their 73-71 win (Getty) (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
The Opals’ dream of an elusive gold medal is over after they experienced a Serbian nightmare in Rio overnight. Zela guides you through Australia’s shock exit.
By
Megan Hustwaite

Source:
Zela
17 Aug 2016 - 1:38 PM  UPDATED 17 Aug 2016 - 1:38 PM

So, what happened? 

The Opals arrived in Rio hoping to cause the biggest upset of all by beating the USA to claim gold, instead they were on the receiving end of the tournament’s biggest boilover and are sensationally out of the Olympics before the medal matches have even begun.

Australia entered the finals with a 5-0 record, yet with just one emphatic win under its belt, over France, and four far-from-convincing displays.

It all unravelled in remarkable fashion in the Quarter Final at Carioca Arena with the World No.2 pipped by the 14th-ranked side, Games debutant Serbia.

The Opals were out-hustled, out-muscled and outworked on the way to a 73-71 defeat.

The loss represents the Opals’ worst result at an Olympics since it missed the 1992 Games in Barcelona.

Australia last failed to reach the Games' medal stage in 1984, its first Olympic campaign in Los Angeles.

The Opals this morning coughed up a staggering 26 turnovers, to Serbia’s nine, with the opposition scoring 27 points off Australian errors.

While superstar centre Liz Cambage top scored, yet again, the Opals paid the price for being too “Liz-centric” on offence and it was glaringly obvious when she found herself in foul trouble late in the contest and with the only other serious out-and-out scoring threat captain Penny Taylor scoreless and also forced to spend time on the bench after drawing two fouls in the opening three minutes of the game.

The lead changed 13 times and scores were level on 10 occasions in this intriguing finals battle.

Scores were deadlocked on 20 at quarter time, before Australia held a 37-35 advantage at half time then led by the smallest of margins, 52-51, at the final change.

Cambage put the Opals in front, 67-66, for the last time with two minutes and one second left on the clock.

Serbian duo Jelena Milovanovic and Sonja Petrovic drove to the hoop for a 70-67 buffer with 1:01 remaining.

Cambage would then score twice in the paint in the final minute but the uber-impressive Ana Dabovic made a basket of her own and then converted the second of two free-throws to gift Serbia a 73-71 advantage with 10.2 seconds remaining.

With the chance to tie or win the Quarter Final in the dying moments, point guard Leilani Mitchell took the ball down the floor and got it in to Mariana Tolo. But her last-ditch lay-up bounced off the rim and the Opals’ fate was sealed.

Who did what?

 

For the fifth time in six starts in Rio, Liz Cambage topped Australia’s stat sheet with 29 points (13 of which were scored in the dramatic final quarter) and 11 rebounds in 26 minutes of court time.

Cambage, who turns 25 tomorrow, confirmed her superstar status at these Games, her epic match-winning 37-point haul against Japan last Friday the obvious highlight. She averaged a tournament-high 23.5 points and second-best 10.3 rebounds, behind Brazil’s Clarissa Santos (12.4).

Fellow Victorian Rachel Jarry enjoyed her finest game of the tournament and the most court time, just under 26 minutes. The two-time Olympian scored 14 points, dished out four assists and grabbed three boards. She drained three first-half triples, putting her side in front on each occasion.

Guard Erin Phillips (10 points, four assists, three rebounds) started the game strongly but fell away, while Mitchell registered 10 points, five rebounds, three assists and, unfortunately, a team-high six turnovers.

Taylor had a night to forget in what would be her final appearance for the Opals, she finished with seven dimes but shot 0-7 from the field.

It was a bitterly disappointing end for a genuine international champion, who showed her sublime best against France with a vintage MVP effort in game three, which deserved a more fitting finale.

For Serbia, Dabovic was huge, particularly down the stretch with three clutch points in the final 60 seconds, racking up 24 points, three points and three steals.

Milovanovic sunk 17 points and Phoenix Mercury guard Petrovic combined 13 points with five assists.

What's next?

The Opals epic Quarter Final #fail will be picked to pieces, reviewed and there will be casualties.

Oh-so-many questions need to be asked then answered.

Why wasn’t the best possible Australian team picked for Rio? Why have WNBA players Abby Bishop, Jenna O’Hea (both London Olympians) and Rebecca Allen fallen so far out of favour within the Australian program?

Why did Nat Burton maintain her place in the starting five when Tolo pieced together a breakout campaign?

The treatment of veteran big Suzy Batkovic, whose absence was notable in more than a few games, and her controversial omission from the national squad remains a sore point.

An Opals' campaign with lofty expectations fell spectacularly short and the wider basketball community will eagerly anticipate the fall out then the future.

Meanwhile, the fairytale that is Serbia’s maiden Olympic campaign spills into another chapter tomorrow when it plays the winner of Spain and Turkey in the semi-finals.