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Opals pack their bags for Tokyo

AUSTRALIA this morning confirmed its place at this year's Tokyo Olympics when it staved off Brazil 86-72 but anyone confidently predicting a medal at the Games needs to settle down. This is a very tough field.

The 12 qualifiers for the Games are Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, France, Japan, Korea, Nigeria, Puerto Rico, Serbia, Spain, USA.

Belgium, Canada, France, Japan, Serbia, Spain and the USA all will similarly have medal aspirations and none of those are wins you could pencil the Opals in for just now.

Brazil, which had not missed an Olympics since 1988, gave Australia as much as it could handle today in the Opals' last game of the qualifiers in Bourges, France, the final scoreline very deceptive.

When Brazilian forward Damiris Dantas scored for 70-78 with two minutes to play, Bec Allen already fouled out and Liz Cambage on four, the match still was evenly poised.

But when it comes to poise, no-one does it better than Leilani Mitchell. Her 3-pointer gave the Opals breathing space at 81-70, Dantas pulled a further two points back before Mitchell's free throws again made it a double-digit lead.

Steph Talbot added two more for 85-72, with Katie Ebzery's freebie providing the final scoreline, the Aussie defence in the last quarter doing some of its best work of the tournament.

Little separated the teams in a first quarter most notable for Dantas collecting three fouls and also for the emotional and overwrought Brazilian reactions to calls, non-calls or any contact.

Australia scored its last four points to go 21-18 ahead, then continued on into the second period, Ebzery scoring a great basket to beat the shot-clock, giving the Opals a 28-18 lead.

When Ezi Magbegor pushed it out to 30-18, the Aussies were cooking and enjoying a run of 13 unanswered points.

Veteran pivot Erika De Souza then rallied the troops for an 8-0 Brazilian response before Allen (16 points at 67 per cent, 4-of-5 threes) sank a long bomb, followed by a 3-pointer for 37-28.

The Opals led 39-33 at halftime but Brazil owned the third period, Dantas alight for 15 of her 21 points.

Allen clashed heads with Isabela Ramona and it was a fair whack, Brazil full of pluck tying it at 52-52 before Dantas' three gave Brazil the lead.

Her fourth foul inside a minute later stung but Brazil still led 60-58 late in the third.

Mitchell (19 points at 50 per cent) hit a free throw, the Opals gathered the offensive rebound from her second and when the ball rotated back to her, she sank a jumpshot for 61-60.

Australia took that lead into the last quarter but fouls on Allen and Cambage (29 points, seven rebounds, five blocks) inside the first 26 seconds seriously heightened Aussie tensions.

Sara Blicavs' driving bucket was followed by a Mitchell 3-pointer and at 66-60 ahead, Brazil called timeout.

Back on the floor, Cambage took care of the next six points for a 72-60 lead and 14-0 run from the previous quarter.

De Souza finally opened Brazil's scoring at 6:22 and they trimmed the deficit back to 68-72, Allen fouling out mid-quarter to another flopping defensive over-reaction.

Mitchell and Cambage from the stripe and Marianna Tolo on a cut made it 78-68 before Dantas' late heroics were staved off for a gritty Opals' win.

The victory not only sent Australia to Tokyo but also ushered through Puerto Rico for its historic first Olympic Games appearance.


Day 1
Gruda 16, Hartley 13, Johannes 12; Gruda 11 rebs; Hartley 8 assts) d AUSTRALIA OPALS 63 (Allen 20, Cambage 19; Cambage 20 rebs; Allen 4 assts).
PUERTO RICO 91 (O’Neill 30, Gibson 20, Gwathmey 15, Rosado 10; Gwathmey 8 rebs; Melendez 5 assts) d BRAZIL 89 (Dantas 26, Teixeira 19, De Souza 15, Paixao, Costa 10; Dantas 15 rebs; Costa 9 assts) in Overtime {83-83}.
Day 2
(Cambage 31, Magbegor 15, Allen 12, George 11; George 8 rebs; Mitchell 7 assts) d PUERTO RICO 74 (Gwathmey 30, O’Neill 14, Rosado 12; Jones, O’Neill, Gwathmey 5 rebs; O’Neill 3 assts).
FRANCE 89 (Gruda 26, Johannes 17, Ciak 10; Gruda 8 rebs; Johannes, Epoupa 5 assts) d BRAZIL 72 (Pacheco 15; Dias, De Souza, Dantas 4 rebs; Goncalo, Paixao, Dantas 2 assts).
Day 3
(Cambage 29, Mitchell 19, Allen 16; Magbegor, Cambage 7 rebs; Ebzery 5 assts) d BRAZIL 72 (Dantas 21, Paixao 20, De Souza 17; De Souza 9 rebs; Costa 10 assts).
FRANCE 89 (Gruda 20, Miyem 17, Johannes 16; Gruda 10 rebs; Michel 7 assts) d PUERTO RICO 51 (Quiriones 17, Gibson 10; O’Neill 5 rebs; Rosado 4 assts).

QUALIFYING TEAMS FROM BOURGES: France, Australia, Puerto Rico 

Feb 10

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