Opals prepare for next phase

Opals prepare for next phase

Australia have breezed into the second round of the women's basketball world championship in the Czech Republic, but much tougher tests await, starting with Greece on Monday (2330 AEST).

The Opals barely got out of first gear in the first round, resting Lauren Jackson at times and easing Penny Taylor into the tournament after her back injury, and still beating Canada, Belarus and China by an average of 24 points.

But the standard lifts considerably in the next phase, where they will face a Greek side boasting the tournament's leading scorer Evanthia Maltsi, followed by world No.8 France and gold medal favourites the United States in Group E.

The top four teams in the group, which also contains Canada and Belarus, then progress to the quarter-finals.

Russia and Spain, the other unbeaten teams along with Australia and the US, headline Group F along with Brazil, Korea, Japan and the host nation.

"We have three tough opponents in Greece, France and USA," Opals coach Carrie Graf said.

"Obviously we played USA quite a bit in the lead-up, France are a tough team and Greece get out there and have a crack.

"It moves on from here, the intensity gets higher, the teams get better, but that's what you want as you're building your own momentum.

"If we can ride that wave into this next round, I think that's important for us."

Jackson, the leading scorer and second-highest rebounder at the 2006 world titles, has had a quiet tournament to date.

She has shown signs of fatigue after a long season which culminated in her second WNBA crown just last week, so she played just 2:42 in Australia's final match against China.

"The plan was to rest Lauren in the first half, if we needed to bring her back in the second half we'd use her then," Graf said.

"But as the game went we didn't and in those situations I leave it up to the player.

"Lauren was fine to sit on the bench and give the young players a go and it's a chance for her to get a little bit of recovery.

"Even 15 minutes of play for her right now is big minutes, so it was a great opportunity to get her legs fresh."

Graf has given all her players time on court in the first round and their depth will be tested, particularly against the Americans.

It was also important for the group, which contains five rookies, to work on their combinations and there was noticeable improvement in each game.

Jackson is pleased with their progress to date.

"I think we won all our games by over 20 points, so it's pretty good for a team that hasn't played together," she said.

"We're pretty happy.

"We've had to get used to the refereeing and the different styles of play, but we're getting there."



1. United States

2. Australia

3. France

4. Belarus

5. Greece

6. Canada  


1. Spain

2. Russia

3. Czech Republic

4. Korea

5. Brazil

6. Japan 


Sept 27 v Greece, 3.30pm (2330 AEST).

Sept 28 v France, 6pm (0200 Wednesday AEST)

Sept 29 v United States, 8.15pm (0415 Thursday AEST)  

* The top four teams in each group after the second round progress to the quarter-finals.

James Dampney, AAP