Opals stunned by Czech Republic, left to battle for fifth

Opals stunned by Czech Republic, left to battle for fifth

The Australian Jayco Opals and defending World Champions have been bundled out of the 2010 FIBA World Championships after suffering a shock defeat at the hands of home nation the Czech Republic this morning 79-68, in the quarter-finals in Karlovy Vary.

Riding on the back of an incredible home crowd at KV Arena and huge games from star forward Eva Viteckova (27 points) and captain Hana Horakova (21), the Czechs played the match of their lives to leave Australia's title defence in tatters.

The huge boilover means the Opals will finish a major tournament without a medal for the first time since the 1994 World Championship in Australia, where they finished fourth.

It continues a remarkable day of quarter-final action, with world No. 2 Russia also stunned by Belarus to leave the second and third ranked teams in the world out of the hunt.

Liz Cambage was outstanding for Australia, finishing with 22 points and 10 rebounds, but Lauren Jackson was held scoreless until 3:39 left in the third term, ending the game with 13 points on 3-of-15 shooting.

Penny Taylor also had a night she’d rather forget, hitting just 2-of-15 from the field for six points for an Australian side that shot just 29 per cent (20-of-70) from the floor for the game.

Feeding off a home crowd that came armed with drums, horns, whistles and plenty of enthusiasm, the Czechs got off to a solid start in the opening minutes.

The Europeans held a slender advantage for most of the quarter before a Tully Bevilaqua three-pointer and a nice Cambage drive to the basket gave Australia an 18-15 edge at the first break.

With Jackson struggling to get into the game it was Cambage and the Australian reserves who managed to keep the scoreboard ticking over and the crowd noise to a minimum, but it was clear that the title-holders were in for a battle.

The second term was incredibly tight, with both sides taking it in turns to grab the lead, but neither able to get more than three points in front until Viteckova scored three straight buckets to break open a 31-26 lead.

The end of the quarter went bucket for bucket as the less-fancied Czech Republic took a 35-32 advantage into halftime.

The only real encouragement for Australia heading into the changerooms was the performance of Cambage and the fact that despite playing well below their best, the Aussies were still within just three points.

But if the Opals had hoped their opponents would come out tentative in the third quarter, they were mistaken, as the Czech Republic began their second half emphatically, scoring the first seven points of the period to vault to a 42-32 break.

With the Opals continuing to struggle from the field they needed to find a way to get points on the board and they did that by getting to the foul line. Jackson and Cambage were both rock-solid from the stripe as the free points turned into a 12-5 run for the Opals to bring them within one heading into the final term.

The stage was set for a last quarter shoot-out, and despite the form the Aussies had shown all tournament, it was the Czech side that would ignite, particularly from range, as the Opals’ shooting woes went from bad to worse.    

The question was asked of the Czech Republic and they answered in dramatic fashion, out-scoring the Opals 27-17 in the final term, unstoppable from beyond the arc. They shot a phenomenal 47 per cent from three point territory, with Australia connecting on just four of 21 attempts of their own, and that in the end was what got the Czech Republic to the finish line.

The Czech bench grasped each other's hands as the clock ran down, streaming out onto the court and diving upon each other as the final buzzer sounded, leaving the Australians, after such a promising start, to fight for a fifth-place finish.

Czech Republic 79 (Eva Viteckova 27 points, Hana Horakova 21 points)


Australia 68 (Liz Cambage 20 points, 10 rebounds; Lauren Jackson 13 points)

           Czc       Aus

1st Q      15    -    18

2nd Q     20    -    14

3rd Q     17     -    19

4th Q      27     -    17