The Seven Consulting Opals finished the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament with a flawless record in Brazil today.
Following an opening win against the host nation on Friday then victory over Germany on Sunday, which punched their ticket to the Paris Olympics, the Opals edged out Serbia, 75-73.
Australia showed composure and poise down the stretch, in a tense game where the lead changed six times, with a tough Serbian team playing for an Olympic berth.
The Opals experience and youth was on display with veteran Marianna Tolo (13 points, 7 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block) topping the stat sheet and second-gamer Isobel Borlase (12 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 steal) impressing in her first start.
Head Coach Sandy Brondello was delighted with her team’s Brazil campaign.
“I’m super proud of this group. There are areas we can get better at but we’ve ticked off the first step by qualifying for the Olympics, and that’s a credit to the players, now it’s building to Paris,” she said.
“We have a good mix of experience and the young players coming through. You saw the depth shine through with Issy Borlase, Jade Melbourne and Steph Reid who showed what they’re capable of and I was really rapt for them.”
Brondello said the Opals would benefit from squad depth with players like 2022 World Cup All-Star Five selection Steph Talbot returning from injury and available for Olympic selection.
“We were missing some key players from this one but we’ve had others players step in which allows them to shine and have this opportunity in the program,” she said.
“Hopefully everyone’s healthy and we have to make really hard decisions and that’s the worst part of my job, obviously, but our job as a coaching staff is to put the best 12 together that can handle so many different styles of play over a tournament.
“We’re going to Paris, we’ve got that selection headache and I’m just happy we get the right preparation this time and not a Tokyo one because it wasn’t ideal for us.
“And I’m excited for our players to experience a real Olympics with fans in the stands. The atmosphere here in Brazil, playing Brazil, was crazy and that’s real basketball, having the whole Olympic experience.”
The Opals will take part in camps, tours and friendly fixtures against other nations as preparations are fine tuned for the Games which start on July 26.
“The hard stuff does come now and we need to make sure we get our preparation right,” Brondello added.
“Tokyo was a bit of a sour taste but it was a different Olympics then (because of the pandemic), players couldn’t even practice so we’ll have the practice time, we’ll get the playing experiences that we need leading in and that will help us even though our WNBA players won’t be there for the whole time.
“We’ve had time together (in Brazil) to go through the hard stuff that will help us when we do get together.”
FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament
Australia 75 (Tolo 13 points, Borlase 12p,) defeated Serbia 73 (Anderson 20 points)
Box Score found here.