The Opals are on track to add to their medal tally after winning bronze at the 2023 FIBA Asia Cup. The victory ensures that the Aussies will advance to the Paris 2024 Olympic qualifying rounds having finished in the all-important top 4 in the tournament.
It hadn’t been an easy path for the Opals, having lost their semi-final against China despite mounting several passionate comebacks throughout the game. That scoreline of 74-60 meant the Opals missed their chance to exact revenge on Japan in the final and they had a quick turnaround to play the Tall Ferns of New Zealand the following night.
A packed crowd saw both teams begin a lively first 5 minutes and the game all tied-up midway through the first period. It was the Kiwis who suffered from a lack of guard availability with Tayla Dalton ruled out pre-game and starter Tahlia Tupaea reaggravating a shoulder injury just a few minutes from the opening whistle. This took toll on the team with both Krystal Leger-Walker and Grace Hunter forced into extended court time.
It was from that midpoint, with scores at 9 all, that the Opals then went on a 9-0 run building a 22-14 lead by quarter time. The Kiwis were hampered by 7 turnovers as a result of the constant Aussie pressure on the ball.
Despite a spirited start in the second half, with Charlisse hitting back to back shots, it was her forced bench time after she committed her fourth foul that proved a turning point. Shortly after, the Opals went on a scintillating run of 11 to 2 points and with a minute to left in the period, they had extended their lead to 60-41.
Although showing a determined spirit in the first half, the Tall Ferns couldn’t muster a serious comeback and the Opals ran out 59-81 winners.
The road to Paris begins
The win meant another rose gold medal for the trio of captain Tess Madgen, Anneli Maley and Darcee Garbin who were part of the bronze winning Opals World Cup side in Sydney less than 12 months earlier.
It was an elated but exhausted Garbin, who finished a solid tournament with 13 points, who expressed how proud she was of the team’s win.
“I’m absolutely cooked, it’s been a big couple of weeks, but obviously just so happy and so proud of the girls that we could get over the line. We played really late last night and we had to turn around quickly. I think that just shows what the Opals are about, and were able to fight until the end and get that medal!”
It is that determination and spirit which will be invaluable when preparing for the rigours of an Olympic medal campaign.
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