Opals Fall to Japan in final game of Oceania Championship Warm-Up Series

Opals Fall to Japan in final game of Oceania Championship Warm-Up Series

The Jayco Australian Opals have dropped their final clash in the three-game series against Japan in a 76-75 loss to Japan in Ballarat.

A tough defensive effort, much improved three-point shooting and some slick interior passing helped Japan to the win in a nail-biting finish.

Trailing by two points inside the final minute, the Opals produced a defensive stop and thundered the ball down the other end through Tessa Lavey (13 points). She found a cutting Sara Blicavs who was able to affect the rebound after missing her attempt, tapping the ball to Tess Madgen.

With composure, Madgen (eight points) drilled a three-pointer to give Australia the lead with 18.5 seconds remaining. On the following possession, the Opals almost stole the ball twice but ultimately could not stop Sanae Motokawa (game-high 24 points) getting to the rim as she scored with 1.4 seconds left.

Australia had one final chance to score and although Steph Talbot (11 points, five rebounds) caught the inbounds pass in a perfect position, she was unable to finish the play as the ball rimmed out on the siren.

Coach Brendan Joyce was positive after the game despite the loss.

"We had a one-point loss but a one-point loss makes you evaluate things a little harder than a one-point win…I think it will be good for us," Joyce said.

"Japan played really well. They’re a good team and if you don’t bring it consistently throughout the game, they’re going to beat you. Before the game I could sense that we were a little flat.

"When we had younger players out on the floor, we had energy and got back into the game but it was just ebbs and flows and we couldn’t quite keep the consistency in the intensity."

Off to a quick start, the home side led 13-6 early in the first quarter but maintaining the defensive pressure that had served them well in Game 2, Japan double-teamed the ball carrier.

It forced five turnovers from the home side and gifted the Japanese four fast break points, a stat they had not been able to exploit in the two previous games.

Just as they had done in the first two games, the Opals gained some breathing space with a 12-3 run to start the second term.

Belinda Snell (nine points, two assists) had her fingerprints all over the contest, scoring or assisting on all 12 of those points but where they had faltered earlier this week, Japan this time responded.

As Australia were unable to convert their 5-1 advantage on the offensive glass, scoring 3-2 in second chance points, a 7-0 Japanese run gave the visitors a 38-37 lead at the main break.

Finding their way through the Opals defence with several impressive passes, Japan soon forced the home side into foul trouble and mid-way through the third quarter, Japan were in the bonus and had a game-high lead of ten points.

Through a big block from Nat Burton and three-pointer at the other end from Talbot, Australia replied with a 12-2 run and tied the thrilling match at three-quarter time.

Hitting a three-pointer to start the fourth quarter, Lavey gave Australia back the lead but after failing to connect consistently from long range in the first two games, Japan finally found their stroke.

They answered with two three-pointers of their own, finishing 7-16 for the match and took a four-point lead into the final minute of play, a margin they would just manage to hang on to.

Positively, the Opals scored 19 points off Japan's 13 turnovers but they allowed their opposition to shoot 51% from the field. Blicavs put in another solid performance, stuffing the stat-sheet with seven points, eight rebounds, four assists and two steals while Burton finished with ten points and two blocks.

Box scores from the match can be found here.

Starring as point guard throughout the series, Lavey was very happy with her individual performance.

"Personally I’m thrilled. I’m just enjoying my basketball and playing with these girls and I think it shows in my game," she said.

"It’s good for us going into New Zealand knowing that if it comes down to that sort of game we can get shots off and hopefully next time they’ll drop."

The Opals will now begin to prepare for that Oceania Championship series against New Zealand which will begin on August 15 at Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne.