London: Opals vs France Preview

London: Opals vs France Preview

The Opals play France in their second Pool B game in London on Monday night Australian time, and Marc Howard previews the match.

After opening their London campaign with a 74-58 win against Great Britain, the Opals get set for their first true test of the Olympic Games when they take on France on Monday night Australian time.

That’s not to say their first game against the Brits was a cruise. The Opals started sluggishly and the host nation gave the Australians some trouble before the Opals asserted themselves in the second quarter to take control of the game.

The match against the Brits had danger signs written all over it.  It was the Opals first match of the Games and was against the host nation, who also happened to be coached by former Australian head coach Tom Maher. It’s safe to say there would have been an audible sigh of relief through the Opals camp once game one was in the books.

Yet in many ways the Opals real campaign starts now.

The French are the eighth-ranked team in the world and were European Champions in 2009. They booked their ticket to London through the Olympic Qualifying Tournament after their third-place at 2011 Eurobasket wasn’t enough to qualify them automatically.

France, who finished in the 5 to 8 classification at the 2010 World Championship, actually beat the Opals in their final pre-Olympic warm-up game in France recently, 64-58.

Whilst that result in itself might seem worrying, it is worth noting that neither Lauren Jackson or Suzy Batkovic played in that match. That left the Opals undermanned in the big positions, and as a result the top scorers for the French were centres Sandrine Gruda and Isabelle Yacoubou.

The stats for that match were remarkably close in all categories, which suggests that the Opals, with Jackson and Batkovic in the line-up this time, should be feeling fairly confident in their ability to beat France.

They must respect the French however as the Europeans recorded a strong 73-58 win over world number six Brazil in their opening Pool B game.

Guard Céline Dumerc led the French scorers in that match with 23 points, the highest points total of any player thus far in the tournament, as well as dishing out five assists.  The Opals will need to find a way to shut the 169cm guard down on Monday night, as well as controlling the French quartet of bigs -  Gruda, Yacoubou, Emmeline Ndongue and Endene Miyem.

The Opals own bigs in Jackson, Batkovic, Liz Cambage, Abby Bishop and Laura Hodges will be tested defensively `in this game far more than they were against Great Britain.

Not that the guards will have it easy against France. The French had four players hit shots from the perimeter against Brazil, and the Europeans showed themselves capable of getting out into transition as well.

The Opals will need to be on their game right from the start this time if they want to improve to 2-0.

Opals Keys to Victory
- Control the paint against the French bigs and ensure Jackson, Batkovic and Cambage don’t get into early foul trouble guarding the French inside players;
- Help inside without giving too many open looks to the French perimeter players;
- Shut down the French transition game and make them grind it out in the halfcourt;
- Hit some outside shots to open up the paint for the Aussie bigs to go to work;
- Put pressure on the French passing as they have shown themselves as being potentially turn-over prone (19 against Brazil).