Aussie resurgance continues as Opals down Serbia
THE Australian Opals proved a class above in their matchup against Serbia, emerging 15-point victors when the two nations went head to head in Sydney on Sunday night.
After an opening night loss to France, Australia could only afford to lose just one of their remaining games if it wanted to make the knockout phase in a week’s time, and the triumph against Serbia marked a second consecutive victory.
The Aussies were tipped to get the job done, having been one of the tournament favourites coming in. It all started with an impressive two-way performance in the opening quarter, with the Opals holding off the opposition after gaining an early lead.
The two nations have developed a bit of a rivalry in recent years, with Serbia denying Australia the opportunity for another medal at the Rio Olympics.
It was arguably the best the Aussies have been at the tournament so far, given the strength of their opponent, and the Opals’ ability to work overtime on the defensive end and prevent the Serbs from getting any offensive momentum rolling, with crucial shot contests and forced turnovers playing a big role.
While it was a positive result for the Opals, there was one sour note in the form of a nasty rib injury to Bec Allen, who was up there as Australia’s strongest performer at the time. She left the court in the final period with an ankle tweak, coming back shortly after but lasting no time at all before needing to head off again, clutching at her side.
She is expected to miss a couple of games, which is a big blow given how well she has played throughout the tournament.
At the time of her injury, Allen had a game-high 16 points, and was the Opals’ most damaging offensive player. The Aussies will need another to step up in her absence and produce 15-plus points in the coming games.
While Allen’s work with ball in hand was unmatched, Stephanie Talbot may have played a more crucial role in the context of the game. When Serbia’s Yvonne Anderson got off the chain to close out the second quarter and head into half time with 14 points next to her name, the Opals’ opposition suddenly became a threat of conjuring a fight back.
Talbot was sent to guard Anderson in increased minutes, and held her to just two points in the second half, bringing Serbia’s resurgence to a grinding halt and guiding the Aussies to victory. She also finished with 10 points of her own and was a vital cog.
Canada proved too strong for Japan later on Sunday, with the latter fighting back in the final term with ther best period of the game, but still falling 14 points short.