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Fresh Opals polish off Japan

A PAIR of Opals Boomers, a rookie and a veteran tonight laid waste to a bold Japan, winning the opening game of a three-match exhibition 72-66 at Sydney's Quaycentre. The Tokyo Olympics Silver Medallists seized control in the third, only to see Jade Melbourne and Sara Blicavs snatch it back.

Blicavs, a "veteran" in this young assembly of Opals, scored a jumpshot sandwiched between layups in a six straight points personal run that took Australia from 56-62 down to 64-62 ahead.

Melbourne, the teenage "Energizer Bunny" rookie who started the last quarter run, then added two more baskets after Blicavs, the second a 3-pointer, as Australia swept 69-62 clear.

A further Keely Froling free throw made it a 70-62 buffer in a 14-0 run before Japan responded with a three by Nanako Todo, the game-high scorer with 27 points at 57 per cent with 5-of-8 threes.

Melbourne's free throws completed the final score as the Opals produced a withering 16-5 final period, anchored by its defence.

The Melbourne Boomer WNBL championship-winning duo of Cayla George (10 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, four steals, two blocks) and Tess Madgen (7 points at 60 per cent, 7 rebounds, steady leadership under pressure) were the game stand-outs.

George turned back the clock with a magnificent all-around performance, leading by example.

The Opals' defence lifted markedly after Japan threatened to run away with the game, forcing turnovers and converting layups in a slick 22-11 third period that set up its 61-56 heading into the final quarter.

It needed something special from the Aussies and they delivered.

While for interim coach Cheryl Chambers - head coach Sandy Brondello is coaching New York Liberty in the WNBA and her lead assistant, hubby Olaf Lange is assisting her in the Big Apple too (is any media member EVER going to query this appointment?) - it was an uplifting win for the Opals.

But as Jade Melbourne showed when given the opportunity, maybe a few of the other new faces also could have benefitted from some more minutes of action. After all, wasn't that the point?

Game 2 is Sunday again at Quaycentre.

AUSTRALIA OPALS 72 (Melbourne 11, George, Heal 10; George 10 rebs; George 6 assts) d JAPAN 66 (Todo 27, Takada 15, Noguchi 8; Takada, Todo 5 rebs; Yasuma 6 assts).

May 27

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