Written by Kane Pitman.
Stifling defence and scorching shooting from the outside sparked the win, as the Opals cruised to victory in the second half.
Ezi Magbegor came into the starting line-up to face the Tall Ferns with immediate results, replacing Katie Ebzery. Magbegor would once again lead all scorers with 14 points, while adding six rebounds and two big blocks to go with them.
“Ezi has been fantastic for us, especially since the third game against China in Australia, she was really good in the first game here and we thought she deserved to be out there,” head coach, Sandy Brondello said postgame.
Despite the lopsided final score, the game was hotly contested early, with the Australian offence struggling to find the freedom it enjoyed a night earlier against the Philippines.
When New Zealand’s Charlisse Leger-Walker scored on a lay-up with 6:12 left in the first half, the Opals held a slender 21-19 lead, prompting Brondello to call time.
The response was immediate.
Three straight assisted triples out of the timeout blew the game open, with Ebzery, Jenna O’Hea and Cayla George draining three-point baskets in the 90 second burst.
“It starts with the defence. I think Jenna really got the energy going. We got a little more disruptive, we got some turnovers, Cayla made a nice shot at the end of the second quarter there, but it was just more about having a sense of urgency with our defence,” Brondello explained.
“We weren’t able to run, we weren’t running and getting the stops we wanted and getting the easy baskets in transition, we weren’t moving the ball as crisply as we should but once we started to do that, we got some open looks.”
Those three long range bombs were the beginning of a 22-6 run to end the first half, with George draining a buzzer beating triple from well beyond the arc.
“In my mind I knew I didn’t have enough time to think or dribble, I just had to shoot it. I mean, look at that, it just happened. You can’t plan that; you’ve just got to shoot it sometimes,” George said postgame.
Australia would shoot 10-for-18 (55 percent) from deep against New Zealand, with ball and people movement consistently presenting open looks from the outside.
George would finish 2-for-2 from three against New Zealand, but as is the case with the current Opals group, she was more interested in talking about the team as a collective when it came to their success from the outside.
“I think we are heading in the right direction in terms of gelling. We’ve added a few more players for the Asia Cup, Leilani [Mitchell] has come back in, Bec Allen came back for camp, [Steph] Talbot as well, we are on the way up,” George commented postgame.
“My personal looks, they will come, I’m not really too fussed, I just love representing Australia and doing what I can to rep the green and gold to the best of my abilities so when I do get those looks, I have to take them.
The depth of the Opals roster was once again on full display, as six players scored 8 points or more, while Steph Talbot led the minute count with 20:00.
Darcee Garbin finished with 13 points, Abby Bishop had 10, O’Hea nine, and George eight, while Nicole Seekamp led the assist tally with six.
The team-high nine rebounds from George contributed to another dominant performance on the glass for the Opals, as they led the overall count 47-28. The Opals have now out-rebounded their opposition 117-47 over the two Asia Cup games, with the Melbourne Boomers centre believing it comes down to the teams will to compete for each other.
“We’ve got a great culture with the Opals and because of that great culture we are all having fun and working hard for each other. Rebounds are an effort thing and we are having a good time with each other on and off the court so when we have that mindset, working hard and getting those rebounds is just part of it,” George explained.
The Opals will play one final group game tomorrow night against a familiar opposition, with a win against China need to secure top spot in Group B, and perhaps most importantly, a day off.
The winner of each group will advance directly to Saturday’s semi-final, with second and third place forced to play in a quarter-final match-up on Friday.
The Chemist Warehouse Opals will face China on Thursday night – Tip-off is at 8:00pm (AEST). Watch live on Fox Sports channel 507 or stream on Kayo.