Opals sneak past Serbia to cap off Olympic Qualifiers

A WIN over Serbia in the final game of their 2024 Olympic Qualifiers campaign was the perfect way for the Australian Opals to cap off a successful weekend in Brazil.

The Opals had already secured a spot at the 2024 Paris Olympics after defeating Germany a couple of days earlier, but were still looking to finish the campaign on a high and enter the games with some momentum.

However the team would be without arguably Australia’s best ever player in Lauren Jackson, who spectacularly retired following the win over Germany, while captain Tess Madgen also missed, evening the ledger a bit for Serbia.

Although it was a close contest at times, the Opals managed to do just enough to claim a thrilling two-point win over the Serbians and close out the tournament in style.

Serbia (73) def. by Australia (75)

It was not looking good for Australia in the opening term, as Serbia stormed out of the blocks with some seriously damaging offence. The Serbians broke away on the scoreboard with a 10-0 run to lead 22-12 at the first change, with the onus on the Aussies to switch things up at quarter time.

The Opals did make the necessary changes, and came out of the break in a zone defence, not allowing the Serbians to take easy shots inside the paint. Instead, they were forced into taking long-range attempts, and as a result, Serbia’s shooting percentage dropped in a big way and Australia remarkably led by one point at the main break.

The game was much more even in the third quarter, with neither side able to stamp their authority on the contest. There were short scoring bursts, but they were almost immediately answered down the other end in an entertaining patch of play. The Opals had extended their lead to three points at three-quarter time but it was still anyone’s game.

The fourth quarter was full of momentum swings, with Serbia storming past the opposition to lead 64-59 midway through the last term. However, Bec Allen helped her side overcome inconsistent rebounding and sloppy turnovers to go on an 11-1 run and snatch the lead in emphatic fashion. Although the Serbians delivered a last gasp attempt in the dying seconds, Jade Melbourne made her first free throw and intentionally missed her second to seal the victory for the Opals.

For the Opals, Marianna Tolo led the way in a balanced team showing, top scoring for Australia with 13 points to go with seven rebounds, while Isobel Borlase continued her excellent debut at international level with 12 points of her own.

For Serbia, Yvonne Anderson was the star of the show and almost got her side to a memorable win with a game-high 20 points in a valiant display.

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