Opals give Fiji a baptism of fire

Opals give Fiji a baptism of fire

The scoreboard will show it a mismatch, but gallant Fiji never stopped trying in their showdown against reigning world champions Australia at the FIBA Oceania Championship in Dunedin overnight. Always battling the odds, the South Pacific champions were able to

The scoreboard will show it a mismatch, but gallant Fiji never stopped trying in their showdown against reigning world champions Australia at the FIBA Oceania Championship in Dunedin overnight.

Always battling the odds, the South Pacific champions were able to reward a small, but vocal fan club with moments to cheer about despite the Australian Defence Force Opals’ lopsided 136-32 victory.


Guard Renae Camino led all scorers with 27 points (12/16 FG, 1/1 3pt, 2/2 FT), five assists and four steals, while point guard Kathleen Macleod had 21 points (7/8 FG, 2/3 3pt, 5/5 FT), six assists and three steals.

After the game, Australian Defence Force Opals head coach Jan Stirling visited the Fijian locker room, and told the Fijian players to be proud of their performance and their chance to represent their country.


“Fifty years ago, the Opals went to their first world championships with seven players by boat to Brazil and played Russia,” she said. “That’s where Fiji are now and we know how hard it is.


“Even our young players have been fortunate to come through a wonderful basketball system. They have to learn to respect other nations and athletes that come from a system that is very young and in its infancy.”


Australia had already scored seven points before Fiji found the basket with a Mareta Mani free throw. If the contest was ever in any doubt, the Opals erased it with 24 unanswered points and a 40-3 advantage after the opening quarter.


The islanders could add only one further basket in the second period, but as the Aussies took their foot off the accelerator after halftime, the underdogs found more opportunities to showcase their skill, losing the final quarter just 19-26


Forward Sera Colata took the ball aggressively at her more vaunted opponents and was rewarded by the referees with regular visits to the free throw line. Over the fourth quarter, the Fijians began to find their range from the arc – Seini Dobui connected twice and Agnes Sokosoko once as they fought to keep the margin with 100 points.


“We knew we were going to really struggle in this game,” said Fiji coach Michael Whippy.

“But we got a bit of confidence out of that second half and will feel much better for it tomorrow.


“We have never played at this level before and we can only build from here. These girls now know what it is like … we tried to warn them, but they couldn’t understand until they experienced it themselves.”


Australia were in the proverbial “no-win” situation. If they didn’t try hard enough, they would seem condescending … if they tried too hard, they ran the risk of embarrassing their opponents.


“I thought we played with great respect,” said Stirling. “We certainly weren’t going out there to humiliate them and I was very proud of how my girls reacted.”


Forwards Emma Randall (15 points/14 rebounds) and Abby Bishop (15 points/11 rebounds) both accumulated “double doubles”. The Opals enjoyed a solid shooting night, converting 60% FG, 8/16 3pt and 87.5% FT.


They didn’t miss a free throw all night until captain Natalie Porter clunked a pair midway through the final period.


“The young girls got to play a lot of minutes,” said Stirling. “We tried to keep it tidy, keep errors down and we had a chance to practice some zone defence.”


Australia has the day off today, while Fiji and the NZ Tall Ferns face off for the Oceania berth at next year’s Beijing Olympics.

In related news, Australian Defence Force Opal Rohanee Cox won the 2007 Deadly Award for Female Sportsperson of the Year overnight.

The Deadlys, held at the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall, are the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander music, sport, entertainment and community awards.

Cox accepted the award via video from Dunedin.

Quarter 40-3

Halftime 73-5 (33-2)

Threequarter 110-13 (37-8)

Fulltime 136-32 (26-19)

Australia 136 (R Camino 27, K Macleod 21, R Cox 15, A Bishop 15, M Tolo 15, E Randall 15) defFiji 32 (Sera Colata 12)