Chemist Warehouse Opals start FIBA Womens Asia Cup in dominant fashion
Finishing with an extraordinary eight players in double-digit scoring, the Opals shared the load throughout the four-quarter performance.
Ezi Magbegor stuffed the box score against the Philippines to lead all scorers with 18 points, while also adding six rebounds, three blocks, two steals and an assist.
Jenna O’Hea had 17 points, while Cayla George, Bec Allen, Abby Bishop, Steph Talbot and Sara Blicavs had 11. Lauren Nicholson also chipped in with 10.
The win was set up with a 38-16 first quarter, with early dominance established on the glass. Head coach, Sandy Brondello’s up-tempo offence led to repeated scoring opportunities in the paint, as the lead continued to swell.
A Leilani Mitchell triple with 8:30 left in the third quarter gave the Opals a 66-34 lead, and the Philippines would not get within 30 from that point onwards.
Mitchell was absent from last week’s training camp in Canberra, though, you would hardly have noticed, as the two-time WNBA Most Improved Player ran the point with typical precision, dishing out a game-high nine assists in just 18 minutes of court time.
“I was feeling good. This team makes it easy to step right in, I’m comfortable with Sandy’s plays because we run it in Phoenix. It felt good to be out there with the girls again,” Mitchell said.
The statistical dominance was evident up and down the box score, as Australia led rebounding 70-19, fast break points 40-4, points in the paint 68-22, and second chance points 34-2.
“We had such a size advantage over them, so we’d hope that we’d get some offensive put backs but to get 34 second chance points, that was good. I think we still left a few points on the board too; we missed a lot of easy shots in that first half but it’s good to get the first game out of the way,” Brondello responded when asked about the statistical disparity.
Contributing in a major way to the paint dominance was George, who reeled in 14 rebounds, with five of those coming on the offensive glass.
“She’s smart, I think that’s what helps her. You saw against China how she can defend a bigger player; I think she’s just matured as a basketball player over the year as well too. Her rebounding was exceptional tonight, and that was great for us,” Brondello said when asked about the impact of George postgame.
The starting centre would also flash her prominent outside game, nailing a jumper from beyond the three-point arc early in the first quarter.
“She likes to stretch it out a little bit, we want her shooting, but we still need her inside attack. She moved well without the ball and she’s one of those players who probably could have had more points too. That’s just me being a little critical of them, she missed some open ones, but she’s been solid for us all camp and that first game,” Brondello continued.
As is the nature of the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup schedule, the Opals will be back out on the floor in less than 24 hours, with just one days rest the absolute best-case scenario if Australia are able to progress to Sunday’s tournament final.
Despite the lopsided scoreboard, Mitchell and the Opals remained even keeled postgame, firmly focused on road ahead.
“We know we are playing for a bigger picture, it’s not just this one game. Our goal is to finish on top of our pool, so we have two more tough games with New Zealand and China.
“We want to win the whole tournament to be honest, we need to get a good seed for the November pre-qualifiers,” Mitchell said.
The Chemist Warehouse Opals will face New Zealand on Wednesday – Tip is at 5:45pm (AEST). Watch live on Fox Sports channel 507 or stream on Kayo.
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