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Opals blitzkrieg rocks Germany and liberates Paris

THEY did it. They're through. Our Opals today launched a blitzkrieg from which Germany never recovered as the Australian women's team qualified for Paris, marching into their 8th straight Olympic Games and 10th in 40 years since debuting at Los Angeles 1984, Isobel Borlase headlining the "new kids".

But even before Borlase, Jade Melbourne and Steph Reid all confirmed they were up and ready for international basketball, it was the "old hands" who set up this thundering victory, Germany complicit by not suiting their star Sabally twins, one suffering a shoulder separation from the win over Serbia.

As it did in the first half against Brazil, Australia completely controlled the tempo courtesy of its exemplary defensive work.

Although unlike the gritty win over Brazil, this time the Opals rewarded their work at the offensive end, an 8-0 start billowing out to 11-2 when Lauren Jackson struck a long three.

She was on fire early, as was Tess Madgen, both of them quickly onto seven points apiece without a miss.

Reid's long pass set Cayla George free on the break to close the first quarter, Australia 24-10 ahead and never going to be threatened.

Passports to Paris were confirmed with a stunning 30-14 second period, Bec Allen's triple taking the lead to 31-12, another to 36-16. Melbourne subbed in and immediately drove to the hoop for 38-16.

Madgen with another 3-pointer - she was 3-of-3 - for 41-19, kept the lead at 22. Introduced with just over two minutes to halftime, Borlase sank a 3-pointer with her first touch, Australia's "Fearless Freshmen" - Reid, Melbourne, Borlase - making a huge impression.

Madgen with another triple blew the score out to 47-19. Melbourne then found Borlase on a wicked cut for an easy two. When Borlase drove to score, Australia was heading into halftime ahead 54-24.

Coach Sandy Brondello distributed the minutes accordingly, all 12 players on the roster scoring and while the game degenerated into an ugly 10-7 final quarter, the job was done and everyone contributed.

Alanna Smith grabbed a game-high eight rebounds and despite the second half being largely academic - 16 Opals turnovers wasn't pretty - watching Reid hustling on the floor for a loose ball, or Reid, Melbourne and Borlase (combined ages 67) playing alongside Jackson and Marianna Tolo (combined ages 76) added an unexpectedly delightful entertaining element.

Australia is through, its result tomorrow against Serbia irrelevant unless Brazil upsets Germany. An Opals win over Serbia then would put the Serbs into a threeway tie on 1-2 with Brazil and Germany, points spreads between them very important - and so far the magic winning number has been seven.

So while the win means nothing for the Opals in terms of advancing, for Serbia it would clinch a ticket to Paris. And they have to go for it, as the other game will be played after, so they won't know the result.

Meanwhile New Zealand, playing without injured centre Penina Davidson, lost to Puerto Rico 67-69 in Xi'An, China, a win - and qualification - the Tall Ferns surely would have secured with her in the team.

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.

*ANTWERP, Belgium:

USA 81 d Belgium 79, Nigeria 72 d Senegal 65. (*Only 2 qualifiers, USA automatic)

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

SOPRON, Hungary:

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

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

*XI'AN, China:

France 88 d Puerto Rico 40, China 94 d New Zealand 47 (*Only 2 qualifiers, France automatic)

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

Feb 11

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