Australian Opals earn comeback win over USA 70-67 in exhibition

July 16, 2021 - Australian Opals vs. USA
Photo: Basketball Australia

The Australian Opals upset the U.S. Senior Women’s National Team 70-67 Friday afternoon in an exhibition matchup in Las Vegas. Both teams have tune-ups leading up to the Tokyo Games over the weekend. The U.S. entered the game after losing to Team WNBA Wednesday evening in the league’s All-Star Game.

Australia played without the services of star center Liz Cambage who said in a statement this week that she withdrew from the Olympic Team to focus on her mental health as she deals with anxiety. Cambage was also involved in an altercation with the Nigerian National Team during a scrimmage this week. According to some news reports, the incident led to the Opals considering removing Cambage from the squad. With the withdrawal, the Australian Olympic Committee is exploring options to replace Cambage on the team.

In Friday’s game, the teams scored 19 points each in the first quarter, but the USA ramped up in the second frame to outscore the Aussies22-9 for a 41-28 advantage at the half. USA forward Breanna Stewart led all scorers at the break with 14 points and eight rebounds.

Australia flipped the script in the third quarter with an offensive onslaught to outperform the home team 23-15 on the scoreboard. The Opals continued that trend into the last period, outscoring Team USA 19-11 for the win.

Opals center and 21-year-old phenom Ezi Magbegor excelled in the absence of Cambage, finishing with 17 points, five rebounds, and three steals to lead her team. Magbegor, who plays for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, received praise for Australia’s head coach Sandy Brondello.

“We have the upmost confidence in Ezi, you got to believe it yourself, bet on yourself a little bit. She’s learning against some really great players over there (Seattle). She’s a big piece of what we’re doing.”

Two other players finished in double figures for the Opals: Bec Allen (11 points, five rebounds) and Steph Talbot (10 points, four rebounds).

Stewart (Seattle Storm) led the U.S. with 17 points and 12 rebounds. A’ja Wilson (Las Vegas Aces) was also in double figures with 12 points. Phoenix Mercury guard and four-time Olympic gold medalist Diana Taurasi did not play due to a hip muscle strain. She also sat out of the All-Star Game.

“We’re getting better,” said USA head coach Dawn Staley about the game. “Obviously not in the win column, but some of the things that we did out there were remarkably better than Wednesday. We just got to clean up some things.”

Staley described the team’s performance and the cause of the third-quarter slump.

“They made it hard for us to make entry passes, and they made us go to a different option in our offense, and I don’t think we handled that well in the third quarter,” Staley said. “Other than that, we handled it pretty good. It’s just that spurt — and that’s a spurt that we’ll always have to be ready to guard against in any game that we play. It can come at the end of the game, it can come to the third quarter, it could come in the first quarter. We are familiarizing ourselves where we have some weaknesses, and we will continue to correct them.”

The U.S. wraps up exhibition play on Sunday against Nigeria while the Australians prepare for travel to Tokyo.

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