15 - 17
August 2015
13 Katie Rae EBZERY (Australia)
Game Report
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Opals put one foot in Rio

MELBOURNE (2015 FIBA Oceania Women's Championship) - Australia opened the FIBA Oceania Women's Championship in dominant fashion with a start-to-finish 61-41 win over New Zealand in Melbourne on Saturday.

Playing in front of a 16,000-strong crowd at Rod Laver Arena, Opals point guard Tessa Lavey was the star with 9 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists in an energetic performance, well supported by veteran Suzy Batkovic (16 points, 7 rebounds) and emerging forward Steph Talbot (8 points), but it was their defense making the real headlines.

"We didn't shoot well but defensively I was very proud," Opals coach Brendan Joyce said.

"It's a fine line trying to give them the confidence to shoot the ball but also get them realise that we've got to get to the rack a bit more, which can be easier said than done.

"But I thought they handled it well, they deserve this, what a wonderful night, there was barely an empty seat when we went out there.

"These girls deserve to be household names, and tonight they became household names winning at home by 20."

For New Zealand, Micaela Cocks, Natalie Taylor and Chevannah Paalvast top-scored with 7 points each, but with 17 turnovers and 14-of-65 field-goal shooting the Tall Ferns strong defensive effort was to no avail.

"We had plenty of great looks, and defensively we held them to a winnable margin, 61 points," New Zealand coach Kennedy Kereama said.

"For us it's a matter of making the easy plays - foul shots, a few lay-ups, but the blinding one for me is the amount of offensive rebounds we gave them.

"We've got to do a much better job of locking down the possession game. If we win the possession game, that's probably a single-figure game for us."

Talbot got the scoring underway with a three-pointer as Australia dominated the offensive boards, but the Tall Ferns' offensive execution was creating the best opportunities early.

Several easy misses negated the visitors' good work however, and when Tess Madgen (6 assists) fed Batkovic the Opals took a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

The Aussie defense picked up as the quarter wore on, Sara Blicavs particularly active as her team forced five turnovers and took a 15-5 quarter time lead.

After a dour first 10 minutes, a slick crossover from Lavey brought the huge crowd to life, Madgen again found Batkovic under the hoop, and when Lavey connected from long range the Opals were ahead 27-13.

Talbot started the second half like the first, her long-range bomb extending Australia’s 12-point half-time lead, with that margin passing 20 when Lavey converted yet another Opals steal into an uncontested lay-up.

While young Tall Ferns Jordan Hunter and Paalvast provided moments of resistance, their team had no answers for the Opals' aggressive defensive approach as they ran out 20-point winners.

Game 2 is in Tauranga on Monday.