Opals into 2014 FIBA World Championships with 2-0 sweep of Oceania

Opals into 2014 FIBA World Championships with 2-0 sweep of Oceania

The Australian Jayco Opals have locked in their place at the 2014 FIBA World Championships for women with a 2-0 sweep of New Zealand in the 2013 FIBA Oceania Championships.

The Opals followed up their Game One victory in Auckland with an 84-66 win over the Tall Ferns in front of a boisterous crowd at the AIS Arena in Canberra this afternoon.

After Lauren Jackson did all the damage in Game One, it was fellow London Olympian Belinda Snell who rose to the occasion in Canberra, shooting five three-pointers in her 17 points, which all came in the first three terms when the game was there to be won.

Opals Head Coach Brendan Joyce said his players had done well to seal their place in the 2014 FIBA World Championships after just seven weeks under his guidance.

“It was a big thing to get the players used to the coaching staff and build our side,” Joyce said.

“Nothing can be taken for granted, we respect everyone we play and New Zealand are proud people and proud to play for their country.

“But we’re just as proud and I was very pleased to see our group get through to the world championships.

“We have brought in some new players to the team and I think we have created a little more depth than we had before.”

Jackson didn’t disappoint fans in her adopted hometown either, with 21 points and seven rebounds, and said she was excited to be back on court and helping the Opals qualify for Turkey.

“I’m really happy with the girls and proud of we did it the way we did it,” Jackson said.

“Playing here [Canberra] for the second game was unbelievable. I couldn’t imagine a better way to finish this tournament than playing here with a packed out crowd.

“Since I’ve been playing in the national team in qualifying tournaments, this has never happened.”

WNBL based Tall Ferns Toni Edmondson and Micaela Cocks led their side from the front with 26 points and 25 points respectively.

The Opals looked to make the most of their size advantage from the start, finding Jackson for several early baskets and seven points for the quarter.

While Jackson was finding her stroke, the Tall Ferns managed to execute on offence with Toni Edmondson scoring nine points in the term.

Kristen Veal’s inclusion into the game gave the Opals a boost with her five points coming late in the first giving the Opals a 20-16 quarter time lead.

The Opals struggled on offence at the start of the second term with the Tall Ferns putting together an impressive run of baskets to take a 34-28 lead midway through the term.

But the home side regained its composure and lifted their defence holding the Tall Ferns scoreless for the final three minutes of the quarter while going on an 11-0 run to take a 39-34 lead at half time.

Belinda Snell, Mariana Tolo and Nat Hurst led the way during the late quarter run.

Just as they did in Game One of the series, the Opals stormed away to a big lead in the third term going inside to Jackson in the first play for a basket which would set the tone for the rest of the second half.

While Jackson looked likely to take over the game, it was Snell who proved the most dangerous Opal making three three-pointers in the term as the Opals took their lead towards 20 points midway through the quarter.

Hanna Zavecz and Kelly Wilson also made a difference in the third quarter with their on-ball defence.

The Tall Ferns edged back into the game reducing the lead to 13 points but Jackson helped the Opals pull away in the final minutes of the third making a three-pointer just before the buzzer to help the home side to a 66-48 lead at three-quarter time.

Snell found a cutting Jackson from a layup out of a pick and roll to start the fourth term, from there the Opals cruised to victory with several inexperienced Opals making the most of extra game time.

The 17th FIBA Basketball World Championships for women will be held 27 September 27– 5 October, 2014 in Turkey.

Host nation Turkey and Olympic Champions, the USA have automatically qualified. The following places remain to qualify at the following events:

20 – 29 Sept: 2013 FIBA Africa Championship, Maputo, Mozambique – 2 places

23 to 29 Sept: 2013 FIBA Americas Championship, Xalapa, Mexico – 3 places

27 Oct – 3 Nov: 2013 FIBA Asia Championship – Bangkok, Thailand – 3 places