Written by Megan Hustwaite.
The Opals’ Tokyo Olympic campaign is over after they were outclassed by the USA, 79-55, on Wednesday.
In a quarter-final showdown between world No.1 and 2 teams, the Americans dominated Australia all the way to achieving their 53rd Olympic win in a row.
It was the Opals lowest Olympic score in 21 years.
Australia’s Sandy Brondello, coaching in her first Olympics after representing her country in four as a player, said the defeat was a tough end to the tournament.
“We’re obviously disappointed with the result. We faced a very focused and aggressive USA team today and found it really hard to score or be able to execute the way we wanted to,’’ she said.
“I’m really proud of these girls and I keep saying it’s been a really interesting few weeks that we’ve had to deal with, losing a big part of our team and trying to find our identity and with limited preparation it was hard to find that having played two games together in 18 months.
“That’s the Covid world we lived in, especially coming from Australia, and now we’ve got to learn from this and be better prepared heading into the World Cup in Sydney next year.”
Point guard Leilani Mitchell (16 points (shooting 40 per cent from the 3), 6 assists, 3 rebounds) and the consistent Cayla George (11 points, 7 rebounds) were Australia’s best performed players.
For the USA, Brianna Stewart (23 points (8-10 from the field), 5 rebounds, 3 assists) produced her best Olympic performance, Brittney Griner (15 points, 8 rebounds) was huge and Chelsea Gray (8 assists, 7 points) packed a punch of the bench.
After her impact against China and Puerto Rico, captain Jenna O’Hea came into the starting line-up for Bec Allen.
George opened proceedings for Australia but once Diana Taurasi levelled scores it was all one-way traffic for the USA who led by as much as 16 points in the first quarter.
Stewart was a force to be reckoned with landing 10 points in the first term as her country got out to a 26-12 quarter-time advantage. Mitchell had half of the Opals score to her name.
Returning after missing the last pool game through injury, Steph Talbot scored Australia’s first points of the second quarter as the Opals finally got some-much needed stops.
But Stewart, with another 10 points for the term, continued to pace the USA who had Griner starting to make a big impact, A’ja Wilson (10 points) and Gray contributing to a 9-0 run to finish the first half.
Tellingly, Australia had 15 turnovers at the main break and was shooting at just 21 per cent from the field.
The Opals got their offence going to start the third, through Mitchell, Marianna Tolo and George, but the Americans would lift their defensive pressure, Australia’s offence drying up.
Griner was a force, registering 10 points for the term, with the world No.1 outscoring its rival 22-15 to take a commanding 68-39 lead into the final break.
Australia was able to salvage some late pride winning the last quarter 16-11 as its ambitions of winning a medal in Tokyo came to a halt.
The Opals next major tournament is next year when Australia hosts the FIBA Women’s World Cup.
USA 79 (Stewart 23 points, Griner 15, Wilson 10) defeated Australia 55 (Mitchell 14, George 11)
The Last Word
with Carrie Graf
Opals coach, 2012 London Olympics (bronze medal)
“Against the US you’ve got to put your best foot forward for every moment of the game and keep scoreboard pressure on and we lost it in that mid patch of the first quarter. We turned the ball over three or four times consecutively, they went on a run, got 10 up and once the momentum swung, I think that was the game there.
We made some good runs and chipped away at it but a classy team like the US, the depth of their talent and experience, you can’t get behind by big margins against them because wins don’t come often against the US, especially in Olympic tournaments.”