With Olympic qualification on the line, the best thing you could do before the Australia-Brazil match-up, the third and final game of this Bourges-based series, was exhale.
Because from the get-go, the tempo that Brazil’s Débora Costa and Damiris Dantas ran was downright dizzying, and the Opals took a few possessions to gain their composure.
With Brazil’s centre Erika De Souza cheering every lay-up like a game-seven jumper, Australian coach Sandy Brondello’s biggest concern was that emotion could get the better of the Opals.
After Brazil enjoyed a fast start, a Kate Ezbery shot as quarter-time expired gifted Australia a three-point lead that felt like it came from nowhere. It was 21-18 to Australia.
Then when Bec Allen – who has thrived in the pressure of this series – opened the second quarter with a three-pointer, Australia extended the lead to 6.
It sounds elementary at the early stages of a match, but it took the air out of the game for Jared Nesto’s Brazillian squad, and crucially had them chasing rather than dictating the pace.
From there, Australia’s gameplan reverted back to a simple one: play through the post and get Liz Cambage involved. She was well supported by Ezi Magbregor, who improved with each game in France.
When Magbregor made two throws midway through the second, suddenly an Australian 12-0 run gave Australia 30-18 lead.
Time and again, when Brazil fought back, Allen hit a crucial long-range jumper. A Costa three-pointer kept Brazil within a manageable distance, and Australia went into the major break with a 6-point lead (39-33).
As the second half began, Cambage embraced the jeers of the crowd, who were supporting the Brazillian underdogs.
Cambage scored an easy two under the basket and then put a hand to her ear – and Brazil responded. Inspired by an enormous 15-point third quarter from Dantas, Brazil wedged this game open.
Dantas’ last basket of her game-changing period was a three-pointer that gave Brazil a 55-52 lead with just over two minutes left in the third.
The steady hand of Leilani Mitchell settled Australia, scoring seven straight Opals points to give Australia a 1-point lead (61-60) at three-quarter time. When Mitchell hit a three-pointer two minutes into the fourth, Australia’s buffer was back out to 6.
An animated Cambage followed up two blocks on a single Brazil possession with a jumper on the offensive end. She then made two free throws on Australia’s next trip down the floor. At 70-60, it was a 10-point lead for the Opals with six minutes to go.
As Brazil rallied, a moment of frustration from Allen saw her notch up an offensive foul, her fifth of the game. It ensured one of Australia’s biggest weapons would watch the final four minutes of a 4-point game from the bench. It didn’t matter.
Much to her delight, Cambage had the last laugh. As Australia cruised, Cambage’s fifteenth free-throw of the night took her to 29 points, along with seven rebounds and five blocks.
Finally, coach Brondello high-fived every member of the Australian team, and the Opals had secured an 86-72 victory.
AUSTRALIA 86 (Liz Cambage 29, Leilani Mitchell 19, Bec Allen 16)
BRAZIL 72 (Damiris Dantas 21, Tainá Paixao 20, Erika De Souza 17)