By Paulo Kennedy - Guest Writer during the 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women.
It must be hard for the Jayco Opals not to wake up this morning after their gallant effort against the USA with a sense of what could have been.
What if they had made those shots they had been nailing at a superb clip for the rest of the tournament? Could they be playing for gold?
Such is the nature of tournament play, however, they have to put that one in the rear view mirror – today they have to take Cinderella to the Ball.
Cinderella is Turkey, of course, who despite only making their major tournament debut at the 2012 Olympics, are now on the precipice of claiming a world championship medal in front of their adoring home crowd.
The slipper didn’t fit for the Turks in their semi-final loss on Saturday, being outscored 34-17 in the last 14 minutes against Spain to give up a seven-point lead, and they will be desperate to make amends in the bronze medal game.
The Turks don’t play pretty basketball, ranking 13th in the tournament in scoring at just 57 points per game, and 12th in field-goal percentage at a lowly 36.
So how have they won four of their five games? Defence and the ability to make plays when it counts.
Their offence is typical European fare, with plenty of high ball-screens leading to penetration by drive or pass, then looking for shooters as the defence collapses.
The Turkish shooters do a good job of relocating once their defender turns their head in help position, something the Aussie perimeter players will have to be mindful of.
The Jayco Opal bigs have done an outstanding job of slowing the ball-handler coming off the screen and then recovering – with some excellent help from the hedging weakside defence – and that must be at a high level again tonight.
Centre Nevriye Yilmaz is a dangerous proposition setting the ball-screen, with the ability to roll and finish in the low post or pick and pop for a jumper all the way out to the arc.
While she was hot against Spain, Yilmaz has shot just 27 per cent from range this tournament, so expect the Jayco Opals to make her prove herself before giving up penetration from on-balls.
Turkey’s real star is American LaToya Sanders, who was given the ‘Turkish’ name Lara upon receiving her new passport.
Sanders is extremely effective working the baseline, whether that be in low post, rolling as a screener or floating cleverly into gaps as teammates penetrate.
Averaging 13.2 points at 52 per cent this tournament, once Sanders gets the ball anywhere near the basket she is extremely difficult to stop.
Where Spain had success was pressuring the Turkish guards, who have a tendency to over-dribble, resulting in late entries to Sanders or even shot clock violation before their star had touched the ball.
The Aussies’ ball pressure dropped its intensity at times against the USA, and a key to victory will be ramping that back up for the full 40 minutes.
This is crucial to limiting Sanders, but just as important for generating easy baskets and avoiding walk-up battles with a Turkish defence that allows just 55 points per night.
The Turks deny the ball hard right across the floor, which can stymy ball movement but also means the Jayco Opals can draw fouls with quick rip throughs.
The hosts repeatedly use fouls to stop opposition fast-breaks, so drawing cheap fouls and getting into the bonus will mean they have to abandon that tactic of put the tournament’s best free-throw shooting team to the line.
Another way of not allowing these fouls to slow the tempo is kicking the ball ahead, and this is also important to get early post feeds, which dried up against the USA.
As the New Zealand Tall Blacks have repeatedly shown, European defences are not comfortable when the ball and players keep moving in the half-court, and early post catches and transition ball-screens for the likes of Erin Phillips, Penny Taylor and Leilani Mitchell will help achieve this.
The Aussie centres have a significant speed advantage over Yilmaz, and if they can run the floor hard and make her play defence for the full 24 seconds it will limit her efforts at the other end.
The Turks also utilise a match-up zone, with a focus on covering the perimeter and post, but leaving holes for baseline cutters that Taylor and Rachel Jarry can exploit, particularly once the ball goes through the high-post.
The Jayco Opals have been outstanding this past week with a comprehensive all-court style that all teams bar the USA have been unable to keep up with.
Turkey are the most disciplined half-court team in the tournament, with a 6-3 record in games decided by 10 points or less in the past three years.
If the Australians play hesitant basketball they will likely be in a final-quarter dogfight against the tough-as-nails Turks like the Airbnb Boomers at Spain 2014.
But one more courageous effort - taking calculated risks to pressure the ball carrier and similar smart aggression pushing the ball into offence – and the Jayco Opals will cap off a remarkable tournament in style.