Opals record emphatic victory over Japan in first game of warm-up series

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The Jayco Australian Opals have defeated Japan 86-65 in the first of their three-game warm-up series ahead of the Oceania Championship.

A close game early, Steph Talbot proved the match winner with a second quarter domination helping Australia to a lead they would never relinquish.

The Opals began the match with a strong intent to drive to the basket, scoring their first three field goals at the rim. Defensively, they restricted Japan to jump shots despite the Japanese forcing the pace and looking to get into their offence early.

Three offensive rebounds kept the visitors in the contest as they scored six second chance points in the first quarter but Elyse Penaluna and Laura Hodges let their presence be felt under the ring with three combined blocks.

A three-pointer from Belinda Snell (five points) was followed by another long range make from Penaluna at the end of the first quarter, giving Australia a handy five-point lead at quarter-time.

A 7-0 Opals run spanning the first and second quarters then threatened to break the game open before Talbot took control.

With her deadly combination of speed and strength, Talbot recorded eight straight points, three offensive rebounds and an assist in a manic two minutes that gave Australia a game-high 18-point advantage.

They carried that hot form into the third period, starting the quarter with a 7-1 run but a couple of wayward passes forced coach Brendan Joyce to call a time-out as Japan scored easy baskets for the first time in the game.

With the lead cut to 14, Suzy Batkovic (ten points, four rebounds) provided the response with two important field goals while an offensive rebound from Hodges (six points) off a missed Talbot free-throw regained the ascendancy for the home side as the lead ballooned to 24 at the final break.

In a last ditch effort, Japan came out of three-quarter time with all guns blazing. Mika Kurihara and Ai Mitani both knocked in three-pointers to help their team to a 12-2 run in just three minutes.

The lead was once again trimmed to 14 but Tessa Lavey hit consecutive three’s to quell the resistance and cap the emphatic victory for the Opals.

Hitting 4-6 from the three-point line, Lavey (14 points, three rebounds, four assists) equalled the entire Japanese side from beyond the arc while Talbot recorded a game-high 20 points, nine boards (four offensive) and four assists.

The Opals shot 50% from long range as a team while their slow start on the glass improved as they recorded 13-5 offensive rebounds to finish +8 in second chance points.

Australia’s next match against Japan will be at 7pm on Wednesday night at Frankston Stadium.

Box scores for the match can be found here.