In what was the Opals’ first appearance in front of home fans in a number of years, Australia entertained a vocal Sydney crowd to a six-point victory over Japan, 72-66.
The underdog coming into the three-game friendly series against the Tokyo Olympics silver medalists, the Opals were able to hold Japan to just 66 points, which is a big tick according to co-captain, Tess Madgen.
“We want to be a tough defensive team and we had to do that tonight. To hold Japan to 66 points is really great after that big third quarter that they had,” Madgen said post-game.
Leading from the front, Madgen’s presence could be felt both on and off the court. Reliable under the ring, Madgen racked up seven rebounds and hit the scoreboard with seven points, but Madgen’s vocal direction towards a fresh Opals lineup has become another strength for the Opals’ leadership team, on their road to the World Cup.
Instantly making an impact, Cayla George’s first quarter set the tone for the rest of the game. Notching up a double-double with 10 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, four steals and two blocks, George was influential at both ends of the court.
However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing as Japan ferociously entered the second half, challenging Australia in the third quarter putting on 22-11 points, stealing a five-point lead at the final break and setting the Opals with a final term battle.
It was the clutch moments from the youngest Opal on the court, Jade Melbourne, that had fans up on their feet. Hitting nine of her 11 points in the final quarter, Melbourne left it all on the floor. A memorable three-point shot got the Opals back in front and the desperation to save a turnover in defence highlighted that historical Opals’ defensive spirit.
“She’s a weapon, she’s great, she comes and takes what comes her way,” Coach Cheryl Chambers said post-game.
View this post on Instagram
In their debuts, Steph Reid’s energy was unmatched while after overcoming setbacks, Bec Cole was able to nail her first Opals points.
Chambers was impressed with the determined performance on display and was happy to just get back on the court against international competition.
“Games like this will make us better defensively, you can train against yourself until the cows come in but really you play against the same style, so to play these games will make us better. We still need some time together but we’re heading in the right direction.”
Although there was a lot to like about the game one victory, the Opals know that the real challenge is backing it up against a side like Japan.
“They’re going to be disruptive, it’s the way they play. They’ll look to change a few things but we’ve got to stay poised,” Madgen said.
Game 2 tips off tomorrow, Sunday 3pm at Quaycentre. Broadcast live via ESPN, FoxSports and Kayo Sports. International fans can watch via FIBA YouTube, Sky NZ and Fetch.