Rio Olympics: Opals storm into quarter-finals

(From L) Australia's centre Marianna Tolo, Belarus' guard Lindsey Harding and Australia's point guard Tessa Lavey battle it out. Photo: Getty
(From L) Australia's centre Marianna Tolo, Belarus' guard Lindsey Harding and Australia's point guard Tessa Lavey battle it out. Photo: Getty

THE OPALS have stormed into the quarter finals after recording a sluggish 74-66 win over a spirited Belarusian side on Sunday morning at the Rio Olympics.

Australia remained undefeated in Group A to ensure a birth into the knockout stages while Belarus failed to go through after only winning one match.

Belarus went into the match with one win and three losses but turned the tables to outplay the Opals for three quarters.

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The Opals made a slow start to the game, allowing a steady Belarus side to dominate in the first quarter through stellar play from Lindsey Harding and Yelena Leuchanka.

Despite two three-pointers from point guard Leilani Mitchell and good link-up passes by Perth Lynx’s Nat Burton, the Opals trailed Belarus 22-25 at the end of the first.

In a low scoring and sloppy second quarter, the Opals tightened their defence and blocked Belarus from picking and rolling through traffic.

Bench players Tessa Lavey and Rachel Jarry made a big impact on the game at both ends, highlighted by important three-pointers and nice steals.

Jarry and second-choice centre Marianna Tolo collided with Harding late, which resulted the Belarusian coming off the court in pain.

Belarus was more controlled when they had possession and deserved a 39-36 lead at half time.

Australia struggled early in the third quarter, as Belarus took advantage of the Opals’ lack of intensity to lead by 13 points midway through the quarter.

Katie-Rae Ezbery and forward Jarry steered a late comeback to trim back the margin.

Belarus’ efficient attack was halted in the final quarter, as Harding missed numerous opportunities under extreme pressure from the Opals’ defence.

Australia turned on their A-game when they needed it the most and outscored Belarus 12 points to seven to ensure their fifth straight win in group A.

Cambage was once again Australia’s top scorer with 17 points but it was bench players Lavey, Jarry and Ezbery who steered the Opals’ dramatic comeback.

The hard-hitting Harding, who got the upper hand over opponent Mitchell, was Belarus’ top scorer with 16 points and was well supported by Leuchenka (15 point) and Tatsiana Likhtarovich (14 points).

Australia’s quarter-final opponent is yet to be determined, but the team will play on Tuesday or Wednesday.