Continuing her stellar form the recent tour of Japan and in Europe – it was Leilani Mitchell who was the star for the Jayco Opals, stuffing the stat sheet on her way to 15 points (6-of-8 FG), 4 rebounds, 6 assists and 5 steals in arguably her most complete performance as a member of the national team.
Leading by 15 points heading into the final quarter, the Jayco Opals were on the back foot as they watched Belarus go on an 11-3 run to cut the lead to seven points before a late 13-4 rally closed out the game, ensuring another double-digit victory for the visitors.
The performance of Mitchell is another glowing endorsement of the American-born 29-year-old, who pledged her allegiances to Australia following the decision to join the Dandenong Rangers last WNBL season, qualifying through her Australian mother.
Now at the Sydney Uni Flames, who has played more than 150 games for the New York Liberty in the WNBA, enjoyed a standout debut season, helping the Rangers to the finals and earning WNBL All-Star Five honours.
Jayco Opals Head Coach Brendan Joyce heaped praise on his playmaker, highlighting her ability to create extra possessions and open looks for her teammates.
“It was a complete performance from Leilani,” Joyce said.
“She contributed at both ends of the floor. The steals she got were because of great hand pressure and the other aspect that was pleasing was to see her rack up six assists, which is a big number in international play.”
Expecting a hard clash following their crushing win over Belarus in the first game of the series, Joyce said he was pleased with how his team coped with the physicality of the contest.
“We expected Belarus to bounce back and play hard in front of their home fans after the game the previous night and that’s what we got,” Joyce said.
“I was pleased to see how our players were able to play hard and execute at both ends of the floor against a team that played a very physical game.
“Over the four quarters we were again very good defensively, despite having several players in foul trouble as early as the first quarter.”
With Liz Cambage restricted to just eight minutes because of foul trouble, it was Marianna Tolo who stepped up to the plate in the centre position, posting 15 points on 5-of-5 shooting from the field and 4 rebounds, while Rebecca Allen had 14 points.
It was a stop-start opening stanza as the referees took control, calling 15 fouls as both teams struggled to find any rhythm, with the Jayco Opals edging an 18-17 advantage.
After the game went scoreless for the first three minutes of the second quarter, the hosts claimed the ascendency and would hold a narrow advantage before the Jayco Opals rallied to close out the half on a 14-5 run and lead 37-31 at the main break.
The determined Belarusians refused to let the visitors have their way after half time as they did during the previous night’s 76-43 loss – staying within touching distance until the late stages, when the Jayco Opals again pulled clear.
A 16-7 run would give the Jayco Opals the biggest lead of the game at 15 points heading into the final quarter. The final quarter challenge from Belarus again gave them a glimmer of hope before the Jayco Opals again steadied the ship to run out 16-point winners.
The win extends the Jayco Opals undefeated streak to seven games, including all three of the European tour.
Next stop for the Jayco Opals is Istanbul, Turkey – the host city of the 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women – for the TBF Zafer Cup where they will face Canada, Brazil and Turkey.
Action tips off on Friday night at 11:45pm AEST as the Jayco Opals take on Canada.
Jayco Australian Opals 76-60 Belarus
Stats Leaders: Mitchell 15pts, 4rebs, 6asts, 5stls; Tolo 15pts, 4rebs; Allen 14pts; Snell 9pts, 4rebs; Cambage 6pts; Hodges 6pts, 3asts; Jarry 5pts; Madgen 4pts, 3asts; Richards 2pts; Burton 5rebs.
Jayco Australian Opals Team – Tour of Europe
Rebecca Allen – Melbourne Boomers
Natalie Burton – Melbourne Boomers
Elizabeth Cambage – Dandenong Rangers
Laura Hodges – Adelaide Lightning
Natalie Hurst - Canberra Capitals/Canik BLD (Turkey)
Rachel Jarry – Melbourne Boomers
Tessa Lavey – Bendigo Spirit
Tess Madgen – Melbourne Boomers
Leilani Mitchell – Sydney Uni Flames
Gabrielle Richards – Bendigo Spirit
Belinda Snell – Bendigo Spirit
Marianna Tolo – Bourges (France)
Jayco Opals Tour of Europe Schedule
TBF Zafer Cup
Jayco Australian Opals v Canada
Friday 22 August @ Istanbul, Turkey 11:15pm (All times AEST)
Jayco Australian Opals v Brazil
Saturday 23 August @ Istanbul, Turkey 11:45pm
Jayco Australian Opals v Turkey
Monday 25 August @ Istanbul, Turkey 2:00am
For all the latest news and updates on the Jayco Opals road to the 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women be sure to visit the BA website at www.basketball.net.au.