Opals suffer heartbreaking loss to US
10 August 2012
BASKETBALL: The USA have proved to be Australia’s basketball nemesis yet again, powering home in the second half to beat the Opals in the women’s semi-finals on Day 13.
Australia had led by four points at halftime, but the Americans responded with a tremendous second-half display that was both athletic and physical at the same time. The USA turned things around to lead 65-59 at the end of the third quarter, and ran away in the final term to win 86-73.
The USA had beaten Australia in the gold medal match at each of the previous three Olympics, and have now pushed the Aussies back to the bronze medal match.
Australia gave it their best shot, and played a great first half, but just couldn’t keep it going at that level when the Americans answered the challenge.
There was disappointment among the Aussies, and tears from veteran player Kristi Harrower, who is making her farewell from international play at this tournament. Young star Liz Cambage was also close to tears after the match.
Another Aussie, Jenny Screen, finished with a black eye. She was unable to play the second half because her right eye was shut after a collision.
“You win some and you lose some, and unfortunately we lost this one,” Opals star Suzy Batkovic said. “But we can hold our heads high. We gave it whatever we could.”
Cambage, who starred in the first half but was shut out of the second, said the Americans had upped their defensive pressure substantially in the third quarter.
“It’s hard,” she said. “The US are tops in a lot of sports in the world, but we came out fighting and we went down fighting.”
Harrower said through the tears: “I have no regrets. We’ve been a successful team for such a long time, and I’m very fortunate to be a part of the success the Opals have had. Now we’ve just got to get ready for the gold medal game.”
Opals captain Lauren Jackson said the Aussies had given it their all.
“We didn’t adjust properly in the second half, but the Australians can hold their heads up,” she said. “I think we have gotten better as a team and now the challenge is to pick ourselves up and move forward.”
Cambage was the overwhelming reason Australia led 47-43 at halftime. She had dominated under the basket at the offensive end, simply proving too big and strong for the Americans to handle.
Cambage was a runaway pointscoring leader at the long break, with 19 points. The next best from a player on either team at that stage was 10, from American captain Sue Bird.
Kristi Harrower, with seven points, and Lauren Jackson (six) were other solid contributors for Australia in the first half. The Aussies had shot at a tremendous 61 per cent from the field (20 from 33). The USA had shot at 44 per cent (18 from 41).
The USA bounced out of the blocks to score the first two baskets of the match and lead 4-0, but that didn’t faze the Australians. They settled into the match soon enough, and eventually levelled at 6-6.
The Americans mostly stayed a basket ahead of Australia during the first quarter, but in the last few minutes of it the Aussies pressed harder and established an 18-14 lead.
The Opals took a 22-20 lead to quarter-time, and backed that effort up with a great second quarter. They were never headed during that term, and twice they got out to seven-point leads.
Australia were mixing it up well, taking shots from long range as well as finding Cambage in the paint. Cambage was playing like a veteran as she used her physical presence to not only win the ball but also position herself perfectly to get it into the basket.
Cambage also did her work in the rebounding area in the first half, coming up with five. Jackson was a big factor in rebounding at the defensive end in the first half, making eight.
Australia had put themselves in with a great chance of beating their arch rivals, but there was no doubt the Americans would come back at them hard in the second half.
And come out hard and fast the USA did, scoring the first two baskets of the third quarter to regain the lead, 48-47. They were also defending harder on Cambage and Jackson, and making them try to earn their points via the free-throw line.
The game was at its most physical now, and the USA were intent on driving hard to the basket and challenging the Opals to stop them.
The USA were threatening to get away a bit midway through the third term, when they led 55-54, but then Australia rose again. Jackson made a three, and Suzy Batkovic a two, and the Aussies were back in front, 56-55.
But then the Americans scored three straight baskets for a 61-56 lead, their biggest of the game to that stage. Rachel Jarry responded for Australia with a two-pointer and the extra point from a foul, but then the Americans made back-to-back baskets again for a 65-59 lead at the end of the third term.
The Americans had done a far better job in not only defending Cambage, but also stopping the ball from getting to her very often. Cambage didn’t score a point in the third quarter.
Australia badly needed to get a good start to the fourth quarter to try to upset the established rhythm of the USA, but the Americans made three of the first four baskets to stretch their lead to nine points, 71-62.
The Opals were under heavy pressure now, as they stared the distinct possibility of another Olympic defeat at the hands of the Americans in the face. Australia took a timeout, but fell two points further behind when they came out of it.
The USA weren’t threatened from that point, getting out to a 15-point lead at one stage before winning by 13 points.
Greg Prichard in London