Coming into the Rio Olympics, the Opals had one goal in mind: beating the USA and winning their first ever gold medal. After winning all five of their group games and Liz Cambage dominating both ends of the court, it’s pretty clear that Australia is a long way from causing the upset and taking home the gold.
They may have won all five group games but the Opals have been far from earth-shattering. In four of the five games, the Opals have played they have lost the first quarter and have had to play catch-up for most of the game. In three of those games, they have had to mount a comeback late, outscoring Brazil 27-13, Japan 33-15 and Belarus 22-7 in the final term to take the win.
This kind of slow start simply cannot happen if the Opals wind up the in the gold medal match against America who are notable fast starters. Over the USA’s five group games, they’ve outscored their opponents 145-69 and if the Opals start slowly they won’t be able to crawl back into the game.
A worrying statistic for the Australia is that they are around the middle of the pack in rebounds for the tournament, grabbing 37 boards a game. That’s less than the USA, Spain, Brazil, France and Canada and for having the second best rebounder in the competition (Liz Cambage at 10.2 per game) is an upsetting sign.
Only three Australians are in the top forty for rebounds through the group stage so it seems that rebounds that aren’t taken by Cambage are not being seized by any other Opal. Just like before, the USA team is leading the rebounding count with 44 per game.
After the group stage it shouldn’t be the Americans who are the main focus, it should be the Spaniards. After getting hammered by the USA 103-63 in their group game, the Spanish team has played as good as anyone, finishing with four wins and one loss.
Leading or being close to the Opals in many team statistical categories, Spain has all the right personnel to really take it to the Australians. Alba Torrens is third in scoring at 18.6 points a game and shooting at a very high percentage while 198cm Astou Ndour could really cause some problems for Liz Cambage.
The 21-year-old Ndour is averaging 14.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks with her rebounding and shot blocking numbers good for third in the whole competition in both categories. The Spanish as a team are excellent defenders, giving up only 66.6 points a game to their opponents which places them third behind the USA and Turkey.
The goal was to beat the Americans but the way the USA are playing so far, it’s not looking remotely likely. Outscoring their opponents by an average margin of 40.8 points, this team is playing as well as anyone in history. Leading nearly every statistical category, the Americans have not moved out of second gear all Olympics.
Our biggest and most important player, Liz Cambage, will need to play her best basketball for the Opals to have a chance of beating the Americans if they make the gold medal match. Unfortunately for the Australia, the USA have the firepower and more importantly the height to really limit her.
Standing at 203cm, Cambage has towered over her opponents throughout the group stage but with Brittney Griner (203cm), Sylvia Fowles (198cm), Elena Delle Donne (195cm), Tina Charles (193cm) and Breanna Stewart (193cm) they have size and skill that will test the Opals depth.
With the Opals winning all five games in the group it’s hard to really criticise the team but the way they have had to fight back from serious deficits just to win it’s hard to picture Australia going home with the gold. There is even a slight chance of losing to Spain who they would play in the semifinals if Australia beats Serbia in the quarters.
Hopefully there is more to this team that has been shown as Brendan Joyce could be holding back on his stars to keep them fresh for the finals otherwise it’s going to be a disappointing end to Penny Taylor’s Olympic career.