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Opals polish off Serbia for 3-0 sweep

AT 2-0 and qualified for the Paris Olympics, Australia appeared to put the cue in the rack ahead of its win over Serbia, Lauren Jackson and Tess Madgen rested and Alanna Smith also sidelined. But the Opals' "Fearless Freshmen" stepped up again to beat the Serbs, the refs and the crowd 75-73 in Belem today. 

A Serbian win would have meant all host nation Brazil had to do was beat Germany to qualify while a loss meant the potential of a three-way tie and points spread, provided Brazil still beat Germany.

In the end, it didn't matter because Germany beat Brazil anyway but that was still to come, the officiating crew extremely generous to the Serbs all game, the steadily building crowd also down on the Aussies and making their opinions felt.

Brazil was one of two nations hosting the Olympic qualifiers which missed the cut to Paris. Hungary, which hosted in Sopron, was the other to miss a plane ticket.

The USA, France and Australia all qualified with 3-0 records, although the Americans already booked passage to Paris by winning the FIBA World Cup, and France was also automatically there as host nation.

Sweeping the group appeared a longshot for the Opals and even moreso with the two key architects of the win over Germany - Madgen and Jackson - out and Smith playing just 3:14 before donning her tracksuit. 

Serbia jumping out to a 14-4 lead after Australia opened the scoring with Ezi Magbegor completing a fine feed from Bec Allen, also was troubling.

They hung onto it too, still 10 ahead at 16-6, 18-8 and 22-12 where the first quarter closed.

But Australia started rewarding its hustling defence in the second quarter, slipping into some zone also helping disrupt the Serbs who were heavily reliant on Yvonne Anderson to keep the scoreboard ticking.

Marianna Tolo stepped up inside both keyways and her free throws gave Australia back a one-point lead with 2:49 to halftime, the Opals' centre compiling 13 points, seven rebounds and a block in 24 minutes before fouling out.

That was no surprise, after the interval Australia with six fouls to none till late in the third term and the refs occasionally blind to much of Serbia's physicality.

Isobel Borlase, starting in place of Smith, had several brilliant moments with 2-of-5 threes in her 12 points at 50 percent, with four assists.

Grafting a six-point lead during the final quarter, Serbia was unable to punish Australia from the free throw line, missing key ones down the stretch until Jade Melbourne and Allen, who was a constant all game until she too fouled out, made the plays that set the Opals off and running.

Borlase from the stripe put the Opals 74-68 clear but Dragana Stankovic quickly pulled a basket back. An Aussie turnover meant the ball ended up with Angela Dugalic a long way from home but with time running out, she let it fly.

Naturally it went in, the scores now 73-74 before Melbourne was fouled, made her first and missed the second leaving Serbia only enough time to realise it now needed Germany to beat Brazil.

Ezi Magbegor, who starred throughout the series and finished with 11 points at 50 percent and blocked four shots, won the fan vote as MVP.  The athletic 24-year-old averaged 12.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game, shot 63.6 percent from the field and finished with an efficiency of 17.7 (fifth in the tournament). 

ALL THE OLYMPIC QUALIFYING RESULTS (Top 3 Qualify, France and USA automatic)

BELEM, Brazil:

AUSTRALIA OPALS 60 (Magbegor 18, Allen 14; Allen, Magbegor 7 rebs; Allen 4 assts) d BRAZIL 55 (K.Soares, Dantas 11, Zabani 10; K.Soares 6 rebs; Soares, Costa 4 assts) in Belem. GERMANY 73 d SERBIA 66.

AUSTRALIA OPALS 85 (Madgen 15, Borlase, Allen 10; Smith 8 rebs; Whitcomb 4 assts) d GERMANY 52 (Fiebich 12, Gieselsoder, Hartmann 9; Guelich, Geiselsoder 6 rebs; Brunckhorst 4 assts). SERBIA 72 d BRAZIL 65.

AUSTRALIA OPALS 75 (Tolo 13, Borlase 12, Magbegor 11, Allen, George, Melbourne 10; Tolo 7 rebs; Borlase, Melbourne 4 assts) d SERBIA 73 (Anderson 20, Stankovic 16, Nogic 9; Krajisnik 7 rebs; Nogic 6 assts). GERMANY 73 d BRAZIL 71

Final Standings: Australia 3-0, Germany 2-1, Serbia 1-2, Brazil 0-3

ANTWERP, Belgium:

USA 81 d Belgium 79, Nigeria 72 d Senegal 65. 

USA 100 d Nigeria 46, Belgium 97 d Senegal 66.

Belgium 78 d Nigeria 61, USA 101 d Senegal 39

Final Standings: USA 3-0, Belgium 2-1, Nigeria 1-2, Senegal 0-3

SOPRON, Hungary:

Japan 86 d Spain 75, Canada 67 d Hungary 55.

Spain 60 d Canada 55, Hungary 81 d Japan 75.

Japan 86 d Canada 82, Spain 73 d Hungary 72.

Final Standings: Japan 2-1, Spain 2-1, Canada 1-2, Hungary 1-2

XI'AN, China:

France 88 d Puerto Rico 40, China 94 d New Zealand 47 

France 82 d China 50, Puerto Rico 69 d New Zealand 67.

France 94 d New Zealand 39, China 105 d Puerto Rico 65.

Final Standings: France 3-0, China 2-1, Puerto Rico 1-2, New Zealand 0-3


Feb 12

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