The Australian Opals have ended their three-game stint in Belgrade with a 79-61 victory over Korea.
Australia secured a comfortable win over Korea on Monday morning, finishing second in Group A with a 2-1 record.
Cayla George had an excellent performance, topping the stat sheet with 15 points, eight rebounds, and five assists; captain Sami Whitcomb’s leadership was again on display finishing with 12 points, four rebounds and three assists; while Darcee Garbin and Steph Talbot each scored 11 points apiece as the Opals register their highest score in Belgrade.
Hungry for redemption after a tough loss to Serbia, the Australian side came out hard against an undersized Korean team, playing fast and moving the ball exceptionally well – finding 15 open shots inside the paint in the first quarter.
Taking confidence and a 15 point lead into the second term, the Opals rotated through their full roster, with each player making the most of the minutes at hand. Opals debutant Maddy Rocci oozed with confidence as she dealt out two quick assists and nailed a three within her opening minutes. Fellow young-gun Kristy Wallace also made an impression on the game, grabbing both offensive and defensive boards and serving out five assists in her 12 minutes of play.
The Koreans didn’t back down in the third quarter, outscoring the Opals 21-14, knocking down three big three-pointers in an attempt to claw their way back into the game.
Despite giving up 19 turnovers, the Opals were too strong for the Korean team. The Australians claimed an 18 point win to close out the World Cup Qualifying Tournament and will now continue on to host FIBA’s flagship women’s event, the World Cup, in Sydney in September.
Got the win!
The Opals have closed out their @FIBAWWC QT campaign with a win over Korea, 79-61!
Home time ✈️#WeAreBasketball pic.twitter.com/2xA9NcHOZ4
— Basketball Australia (@BasketballAus) February 13, 2022
Ahead of hosting the World on home soil, coach Sandy Brondello was pleased with the Opals’ progress throughout the Qualifying Tournament.
“I was really happy with the first half and after last night, to respond and come out of the gates and play well in the first half was a good response.”
“I think we have learnt a lot (this tournament). It’s a reset after last year, we got some new faces in and we came in saying defence comes first and playing a bit more aggressively – I think that certainly helps our game.
“We didn’t have Ezi Magbegor here this trip for us and she is a big loss for us, she is a key, integral part for what we want to do. We think we can be a great defensive team, for us to be back on the podium we’re going to have to play great defence, that’s what it’s about.
“I saw some really good signs and I saw signs where we struggled a little under pressure and that’s an area we need to work on. The only way to get better is playing against quality opponents and we have really good preparation leading into the World Cup so I’m excited about that.”
On the prospect of hosting a World Cup in front of a home crowd, Cayla George added:
“For me personally, and obviously I will try my best to filter it through the team as one of the leaders, that pressure (of a home World Cup) is an exciting pressure it’s not a negative pressure at all. I feel like we had Serbia (at home) last night and that was pretty intense pressure, we played Spain in Spain in 2018, that was under immense pressure, and we had the Commonwealth Games at home a few years ago and that was really exciting to play in front of our home fans and family so we got a bit of a taste of it then.
“My mindset going in (to the World Cup in Sydney) is only positive, it’s not ‘oh gosh what if we fail at home?’ it’s not like that at all, that’s not the Opals way. We go out and we play hard and not matter the result as long as we can leave the court knowing we gave it our all, I think that’s something to be proud of so that’s how we will attack every game. There’s no negative pressure for us.”
From Group A in Belgrade, Korea and Serbia also have qualified for the World Cup. The 12-team playing field will be finalised once all three World Cup Qualifying Tournaments are complete on Tuesday, 15 February.