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15 - 17
August 2015
11 Laura HODGES (Australia)
04/06/2015
News
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Opals face stiffest test yet against Spain

HUELVA (2015 FIBA Oceania Women's Championship) - For true connoisseurs of international basketball, it does not get much better than a clash between Australia and Spain.

These two teams, who this summer will be looking to clinch spots in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, are getting ready for their vital qualifying games by playing against each other.

It's exactly the sort of game that Brendan Joyce craved as Australia boss when he was putting together the plans for the Opals' current tour of Europe.

The coach is throwing players in at the deep end, seeing how they respond against top talents on the old continent, many that played at last year's FIBA Women's World Championship.

So far, the up-and-coming, ambitious Opals that are looking to make the Australia squad for the FIBA Oceania Women's Championship have given Joyce plenty to ponder.

He'll be eager to see how they perform against the Spaniards, the defending champions of Europe.

The Opals have played to mixed reviews so far in a combined five games against Serbia and Italy.

The Serbians swept Australia in their two meetings, although the second encounter was very close.

Joyce was, overall, not disappointed by what he saw against Marina Maljkovic's team.

His players were tired after a long journey for the first game and in the second, they pushed Serbia hard.

The Opals then travelled to Italy and squared off against a team that narrowly lost to Serbia at the EuroBasket Women 2013 in the Quarter-Finals, a defeat that prevented them from reaching the 2014 FIBA Women's World Championship.

Australia won the first two games and Italy prevailed in the third.

It will be a great experience for the younger players playing Spain at home at full-strength - Joyce

Both Serbia and Italy will be competing at the EuroBasket Women in Hungary and Romania in just over a week, as will Australia's next opponents, powerhouses Spain.

The teams will meet in Huelva in the southern part of the country on Friday.

"We're going to have to play as well as what we did against Serbia in the eight-point loss [second game] and the first two games against Italy in order to compete with Spain," Joyce warned.

Joyce has handed Opals debuts to Maddie Garrick, Stephanie Talbot and Katie-Rae Ebzery and, as might have been expected, each has had highs and lows.

Ebzery had 21 points and then 12 in Australia's first couple of wins over the Italians but then scored just three points in the loss.

Garrick has been an interesting player to follow.

Her plan for this tour was to work hard and see how she measured up against top-flight competition.

She really did not know how she would cope in a faster, more physical game.

No team, other than the United States, plays faster than Spain, so that will be a good test for her.

"Whether I make further teams or camps or anything else this is an opportunity to see where I stand against these women who are the best," Garrick said.

Joyce has also called on Opals that do not have much national team experience for this tour, although he does have some battle-hardened veterans like Suzy Batkovic and Belinda Snell, too.

While Friday's clash with Spain will be a test between the No. 2 side in the FIBA World Ranking Women, Australia, and the No. 3 team, Spain, the hosts will more closely resemble the side that played at the FIBA Women's World Championship.

Alba Torrens, Laia Palau, Laura Nicholls, Laura Gil, Anna Cruz, Leticia Romero, Leonor Rodriguez and Marta Xargay were all in Spain's team last year, while the Opals have World Championship players Snell, Tessa Lavey, Natalie Burton and Laura Hodges.

The performance in the last clash with the Azzurre did not bring a lot of praise from Joyce, so the players should have an edge to their play as they try to finish the tour in strong fashion.

"They jumped us at the start and then controlled the momentum from the beginning of the game," Joyce said.

"We tried to make a couple of runs and we played hard but we didn't really execute offensively consistently.

"Our defense wasn't as good as it has been the previous two games."

Spain, will go into the game on the back of wins over Greece, Turkey and Russia in Santander and Great Britain, Poland and Canada in Logrono.

They are in Huelva and ready to go.

FIBA