London: Opals v Great Britain Preview

London: Opals v Great Britain Preview

Marc Howard previews the Opals opening match of the London Olynmpic Games against Tom Maher's Great Britain.

The Australian women’s basketball team start their quest for gold on Sunday morning Australian time when they take on the host nation, Great Britain, in their opening Group B match.

The Opals will enter the match as hot favourites, and the expectation will be that they should easily dispense with the Brits.  After all, the Opals have won silver medals at each of the last three Games and are the second ranked team in the world, whilst Great Britain are ranked 49th – the lowest of any team in London.

The Brits will be making their first-ever Olympic appearance after receiving an automatic berth in London as the host nation and have no big name players that would compare alongside the likes of Lauren Jackson, Suzy Batkovic, Belinda Snell, Liz Cambage or Kristi Harrower.

Yet despite the Australians’ overwhelming favouritism, they will undoubtedly be approaching this match with some caution.

After all, the Brits will undoubtedly have strong hometown support in London which will be a strong advantage. Time and time again in major championships the benefit of a rabid home crowd has been proven and the Opals only need to think back to the 2010 FIBA World Championship when they were upset by the Czech Republic for an example of this sort of advantage.

Great Britain will also profit from having a man guiding their campaign who is all too familiar to the Opals.  Former Australian women’s head coach Tom Maher will guide the Brits through their inaugural Olympic campaign and is widely recognised as one of the world’s top basketball coaches.

Maher has already had an impact on the British women’s team since taking over in 2009. At the 2011 Eurobasket tournament, they were the surprise packet of the competition, finishing top of their qualifying group ahead of Slovakia, Germany and Ukraine to secure a spot in the Finals.

They didn’t stop there either, as Maher guided the Brits to a win over Israel before losing by a single point to Lithuania and then by a single basket to Russia –both superpowers of European basketball.

Maher has brought his trademark physical defensive style – the same style that the Opals themselves used so effectively at the 2000 Olympic Games under Maher – to the British team.  That physicality so upset Russian women’s coach Boris Sokolovsky at Eurobasket  last year that he likened his side’s narrow win over the Brits as being like an ice-hockey game.

So it’s safe to say the Opals should be prepared for all-out war on the pine in their London opener.

Whilst depth is definitely going to be a weakness for Maher and the Brits, scouting Great Britain is going to be difficult for the Aussies for that same reason.  The closest they have to a superstar player is 180cm small forward Johannah Leedham, who will be familiar to WNBL fans as she played for Bulleen last season under Maher.

Other players to watch out for will be forward trio Julie Page, Chantelle Handy and Kim Butler who all have some experience of playing basketball in EuroCup and EuroLeague.  The tallest Brit is Azania Stewart at 195cm, whilst the Opals boast three players at that height or taller on their roster.

The Opals should manage a comfortable first-up win as long as they don’t underestimate their opening opponent.

Opals Keys to Victory
- Make the most of their size advantage by scoring inside and crashing the boards;
- Put pressure on the British bench players
- Handle the rough stuff the Brits will undoubtedly dish out;
- Block out the hometown crowd;
- Overcome any first game jitters.