Opals prepared for Tall Ferns challenge

Opals prepared for Tall Ferns challenge

Australian coach Carrie Graf is determined her world top three-ranked women's basketball team won't become the victim of another trans-Tasman upset in the two-match Oceania championship series against New Zealand, writes Adrian Warren for AAP.

The series starts in Porirua, near Wellington, on Monday and finishes in Canberra on Wednesday and, unlike the recent men's series, only the winner will advance to next year's world championship.

New Zealand upset the Boomers in the men's basketball series and with the All Blacks rugby team and New Zealand women's hockey side also registering wins over Australian opposition in the last 10 days, Graf is taking nothing for granted.

With seven of her 2008 Beijing Olympians playing in the WNBA and three more injured, she has only Hollie Grima and Rohanee Cox from that Opals squad available.

However, New Zealand which is ranked 15th, 12 places below Australia, also have most of their 2008 Olympic squad unavailable.

The Opals will see some familiar faces, with the Tall Ferns fielding a number of their WNBL players.

Australia has traditionally dominated New Zealand in women's basketball, but the Tall Ferns beat them in an Olympic test event in April last year.

Graf and her assistant coaches watched a Tall Ferns team containing eight debutants lose 80-71 to 14th-ranked Japan in Napier last Thursday.

"Any sporting contest between Australia and New Zealand is a great battle and we know that they are going to be a blue collar team that work and put up a fight," Graf told AAP.

"It would be silly to say that we are not the favourite and they are not the underdog, I think everyone would say the Opals are favourite to win this series.

"But favourites and underdogs don't mean anything really when you step out on the floor.

"We have to make sure that we play Opals-style basketball.

"We've just seen the recent series with the Boomers and the Tall Blacks anything can happen, so we've got to make sure we focus."

Graf said her young team was making progress and was delighted with the preparation they got in their recent 2-1 series win over seventh-ranked China.

"There are some really positive signs, particularly with our young bigs," Graf said.

"We've got (Elizabeth) Cambage (17, 203cm), (Marianna) Tolo (19, 196cm), (Elyse) Penaluna (20, 193cm) here, who are all exciting prospects."

You can follow the game on FOX Sports 3 from 5.00pm AEST, with LIVE STATS from 5.30pm, and on the Basketball Australia website for the game report, images and video highlights.  

How the series will be decided:

v   If one country wins both games, they will become the Oceania Champion.

v   If each country wins one game then the aggregate points scored in both games will determine the series winner. 

v   If each country wins one game and the aggregate points across both games is equal at the end of the second game, then the normal FIBA system for breaking a tie will be used – that is, the second game will continue with as many extra periods of five (5) minutes as is necessary until the aggregate points across the two games is not equal.

Photo courtesy of Rob Sheeley