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Opals suffer shock overtime loss

31 July 2012

BASKETBALL: Australia forced overtime via a wonder shot from Belinda Snell, but couldn’t go on to win a pulsating preliminary-round match against France at the Basketball arena on Day 3 of the Games.

Snell made a buzzer-beating three-pointer under enormous pressure from her own side of halfway to force OT at 65-65, but the French went on to win 74-70.

Australian star Suzy Batkovic described the loss as hugely disappointing, and said the Aussies had let themselves down at the defensive end.

“We would have been the favourites to win that,” Batkovic said. “I don’t think anyone would take France lightly, but it’s still a shock to the system to lose. But we still have a long way to go, and we’re going to have to learn from what happened today and improve.

“If it turns out to be the kick in the butt that we needed, this result might end up being a positive. We hurt ourselves at the defensive end, and we paid the price for that.”

Australia had to do without superstar Lauren Jackson and Elizabeth Cambage for the overtime period after both of them fouled out in the fourth quarter.

Both teams had won their opening matches easily – Australia 74-58 over Great Britain and France 73-58 over Brazil – to set up a much-anticipated encounter that lived right up to expectations.

Australia controlled the game comfortably early in the first quarter, with Lauren Jackson scoring four points in the building of an 8-2 lead. Elizabeth Cambage came off the bench and quickly made it 10-2, but then it was France’s turn to make some impact.

Two three-pointers later, from Edwige Lawson-Wade and Celine Dumerc,  and the French had cut Australia’s lead to 10-8.

 The Aussies responded well, with Suzy Batkovic getting involved in the scoring with a pair of two-pointers to help take the lead to 14-11 at quarter-time, but the French had served notice that this was going to be a contest.

Australia kicked out to a seven-point lead early in the second quarter, with a two-pointer apiece from Jackson and Batkovic making it 18-11, but then came an awful period for the Aussies during which the French went on a 10-0 run to lead 21-18.

The rest of the term was tight, with the scores being levelled three times – at 23-23, 25-25 and 27-27 – before the French took a 28-27 lead to the half-time break. The Aussies had defended strongly on two French possessions late in the second, stopping the lead from increasing.

The first-half statistics told an interesting tale. Australia had come up with the better shooting percentage – 35 to 29 – but the French had countered that by taking far more shots (35 to 23) and making more of their three-point attempts  (2/6 to 0/7).

The third quarter opened with a frenzy of scoring. Australia immediately regained the lead with a three-pointer from Kristi Harrower, but the French took it straight back with a shot from outside the arc of their own.

The two teams kept answering baskets, with Australia going up 32-31, France 33-32, Australia 34-33 and France 36-34, but then the game blew out dangerously in France’s favour as they completed their second 10-0 run of the game to lead 43-34.

Australia weren’t doing nearly well enough in defence, and the French kept out-shooting them to push their lead out to 13 points – 52 to 39. The Aussies were under enormous pressure now, and had to quickly find an answer to the French charge if they were going to turn the game around and win.

Finally, the Aussies managed to stop the bleeding, and they did it in extraordinary style with a 12-0 run of their own to trail by just one point – 52 to 51 – with four seconds left in the term. After a time-out France failed to score, leaving them with that one-point lead going to the final break.

There were nervous times again for Australia immediately the final quarter began, with the French scoring the first two baskets to get out to five-point lead, 56-51. But then Australia came back into it again, scoring two baskets of their own to be 56-55 down.

The pace of the game had soared, and the intensity was high. The result was going to come down to which players could hold their nerve and make the big shots against suffocating defence.

France scored to make it 58-55, but then the Aussies came back with two straight baskets to hit the lead for the first time since early in the third quarter, 59-58. France made it 59-59 as the game crept into the final three minutes and reached fever pitch in the crowd.

Australia made it 61-59, and then France got back in front, 62-61. With 81 seconds left, Jackson was called for an offensive foul. It was her fifth foul, and she went to the bench. France scored again, making it 64-61, and the Aussies took a time-out with 46.6 seconds left.

A turnover on their possession out of the time-out left the Aussies with their backs to the wall, but they stopped the French from scoring and eventually called a time-out with 17 seconds left. Then the French called a time-out. The tension was going through the roof.

Australia couldn’t come up with a basket, but then France went down the other end and missed. The French were then called for a foul at the Australian end, giving the Aussies two free throws as they were in the bonus.

Snell made the first free throw, but missed the second, leaving the French up 64-62. Australia then had to foul, and with 3.3 seconds left France made one free throw. Snell had no alternative but to try a long shot from just on her own side of halfway – and it went in off the backboard for a three-pointer on the buzzer to make it 65-65 and force overtime.

But the Aussies never got to the outright lead in the the overtime period, and when they trailed 72-70 as the clock ticked down a turnover and subsequent foul sealed their fate. France made both free throws to lead 74-70 with just 3.9 seconds left, and that was how the score finished.

Greg Prichard in London

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