Written by Kane Pitman.
AIS Arena was the venue for the Opals first game in the nation’s capital since 2013, as 3215 vocal fans enjoyed every minute of what was a fast-paced, physical, and highly skilled contest.
“I thought we played pretty good. We made some mistakes obviously; it was a physical battle at the start, but we maintained our composure and just moved the ball,” Opals head coach, Sandy Brondello said postgame.
“Our defence was pretty good to keep a team to 63 points, but at the other end we are just moving the ball and finding the open shooter so I’m very impressed with that.”
After a scrappy opening few minutes, the Opals found their feet, led by Sara Blicavs and Ezi Magbegor.
Magbegor converted two and-one opportunities, and Blicavs added one of her own to give Australia a 23-17 cushion and all the momentum after one quarter.
It proved to be just the beginning of a big night for Magbegor, who led the team with 20 points. The performance of the 20-year-old rising star came as no shock to Brondello.
“To be quite honest, the last two games she wasn’t so good, but we know what she’s capable of and we put her in positions tonight that we thought would help her be aggressive,” Brondello said.
“She’s a great player, she’s special, she’s unique, and that’s what we need. [The Opals] are all different, they are all versatile, but Ezi gives us something different that we don’t have.”
The second and third periods were dominated by a pair of WNBA stars, first Rebecca Allen poured in nine points in the second, before Steph Talbot caught fire for 11 in the third.
It was the first hit out with the squad for Talbot, after arriving just one day before the game from America. The dynamic forward admitted she needed some time to get her legs back, though, her second half performance would suggest it happened rather quickly.
“I think I just started to relax a bit, let the game come to me and take the open shots,” Talbot explained postgame.
The game winning burst came during the Talbot scoring frenzy, with back-to-back triples to Jenna O’Hea and Cayla George opening up a 52-33 lead, forcing China to call time as George pumped her fist at half court while the crowd rose to their feet.
From that point on, China would never threaten, as the balanced Opals attack continued to pour in buckets, to eventually reach the 35-point margin, delighting the local fans.
Joining Magbegor in double-digit scoring was Allen with 15 points, Talbot with 13, Blicavs and George with 10. Nicole Seekamp added nine, while O’Hea chipped in with eight and a team-high seven assists.
“It was nice to actually have eleven players, the last few games we’ve only had nine,” Brondello said with a smile.
Despite the large margin of victory, the Chinese applied significant pressure on the ball handler throughout, forcing the Opals into 17 turnovers, a number that was a little too high for Brondello’s liking.
“You don’t want to fight pressure, the only way you do it is by ball movement. When we did try to dribble too much that’s when we turned the ball over, we just got a bit lazy with some of our decision making, but that’s one of the things we can tidy up,” She explained.
All in all, it was hard to find too many faults on a night that concluded a week long training camp in Canberra. The Opals will board a flight to Melbourne on Friday, before jetting off to India on Saturday to take part in the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup starting on the 24th of September.
“We are one of the best teams in the world and we have high aspirations. We thank the people of Canberra for coming out and supporting us. It was a really great crowd and they saw a great game,” Brondello added.