Opals pass French test to set up showdown with USA

Opals pass French test to set up showdown with USA

Australia have warmed up for their opening world championship showdown with the United States by grinding out a tough 62-52 victory over France in the Czech Republic.

In the first real test of Australia's title defence, France tied the game late in the third quarter and the Opals needed all their depth and experience to claw their way to a 10-point triumph. The Australians relied heavily on their dynamic duo of Lauren Jackson (19 points, 10 rebounds) and Penny Taylor (18 points, nine boards) to move to 5-0 for the tournament.

They now face the US on Wednesday (0415 Thursday AEST) in their final match before the quarter-finals begin.

They are meeting so early due to the competition's altered format in a match most predict is a preview of the gold medal showdown on October 3.

It will be interesting to see if both teams go all out to win or if they try to keep something in reserve ahead of another expected match-up much deeper in the tournament.

The Australians were out of sync to start the game against the physical French, forcing coach Carrie Graf to turn to her bench early and often in the first term.

Reserves Hollie Grima, Samantha Richards and Marianna Tolo checked in and produced some quality minutes as the Opals fought their way to a 15-10 lead at the end of a tough opening quarter.

But France play awkward, combative basketball and they were disrupting the Australians, who had cruised through their opening four games.

The Europeans, who are ranked No.8 in the world, were playing tight defence and crashing the boards to stay in touch with the defending champions.

Jackson and Taylor scored 20 first-half points between them to guide the Opals to a 34-25 lead at the main break.

France needed a big third quarter if they were going to threaten the Opals and when Australia established their first double-digit lead on two Taylor free-throws at the start of the third term, it looked unlikely. But this lead didn't last long as the feisty French quickly reeled off a 7-1 run to close to within three points, 37-34.

France then twice tied the scores in the third term as an upset loomed. The Opals battled back and despite being outscored in the third quarter, they managed to take a 48-44 edge going into the final term.

An 11-3 run to start the final term ignited the Opals. Eight points by Jackson in the final quarter, which matched France's last-quarter tally, guided the Australians home to a tough-fought 10-point victory.

France managed to outshoot the Aussies, putting up 14 more field goal attempts. They clogged Australia's offense, the Opals only managing to put up 52 shots for the game. But as they have been all tournament, the Opals were simply more acccurate. They shot 42.3 per cent from the field to France's 32.8 and that was enough for a winning tally.

No French player managed to reach double figures, with captain Celine Dumerc leading a balanced effort with nine points. The Opals had three with Hollia Grima adding 10 points and eight rebounds to Jackson's 19 and Taylor's 18. 

Next up come the Americans, a team Australia is still yet to beat at a world championships, and although the game doesn't mean a great deal as both teams will advance win, lose or draw, it provides a great insight into where the Opals area at going into the quarter finals.

Earlier on Tuesday, Greece overcame Canada 57-52 to move within reach of the quarter-finals while in Brno, Brazil squeezed past Japan 93-91 in overtime.

Australia 62 (Lauren Jackson 20 points, 10 rebounds; Penny Taylor 18 points, 9 rebounds)


France 52 (Celine Dumerc 9 points)

           Aus       Fra

1st Q      15    -    10

2nd Q     19    -    15

3rd Q     14     -   19

4th Q     14     -    8


2010 FIBA World Championship

Australian Opals Elimination Round Schedule

Sept  29 v United States, 8.15pm (4.15am Thursday, AEST)