For most of last night the Opals plotted a miracle. In the end there was only more misery.
Despite one of their best performances on the international stage, showcased by their rising star Elizabeth Cambage, Australia’s women’s basketball team couldn’t overcome the great ensemble cast of Team USA at North Greenwich Arena.
And, for the fourth Olympics in a row, the dream of a first Games gold medal for the green and gold has become a nightmare.
The Opals threw everything at the Americans, including some good old downunder blue collar play. But they lacked the depth in personnel to avoid a 86-73 loss to their arch-rivals in the London 2012 tournament.
Tina Charles (14 points), Sue Bird (13) and Diana Taurasi (12) highlighted the spread of skill within the US line-up. Cambage (19) and Lauren Jackson (14 points and 17 rebounds) top the scoresheet for the Opals.
Australia can still fight for a prize from these Games. The Australians will play Russia for the bronze on Saturday. The US meets France and will strive for their fifth first placing in as many Olympics.
Cambage was outstanding in the first half when the Opals looked like world beaters.
However, while the 20-year-old got solid support, once the US nullified Cambage’s potency under the basket with clever double-teaming, the Australians lost their key weapon. The Victorian, now plying her trade in the WNBA, couldn’t find the basket in the second half.
The Opals hadn’t beaten Team USA in 15 attempts at world championship and Olympic level. The number increases tonight.
Yet the unlikely looked achievable when the Australians troubled the WNBA all-stars with a 47-43 lead at the half.
At 203cm Cambage can put a fright into most women on the court. Her form in the first half of the semifinal would have made a few blokes shudder, too.
She monstered the Americans in the paint, denying them access to the basket. It forced the Americans to fire over the top of the Australian wall and although they had some success their shooting percentage slipped to 42 per cent.
Cambage was largely responsible for the Opals’ ratio hitting as high as 61 per cent in the first half. Her 19 first-half points came off eight-of-12 shooting and the Americans just couldn’t stop her bullocking her way to the basket.
But there were plenty of cameos to back up the star of the show. Jackson did far more than just play a bit part. Her defensive qualities were rewarded with 14 defensive boards, adding to the frustration of the Americans.
The only setback for the Opals in the second quarter was an eye injury to Jenni Screen, who had to leave the arena for treatment. She returned in the third term sitting on the bench with an icepack on her face and didn’t take to the court again.
Kristi Harrower’s solid handling of the ball up the floor and passing in the key and Jenna O’Hea’s relief work in the off-guard position were also telling as the Opals held a seven-point lead two minutes before the half.
From that position the throng of Australians in the stadium dared to think what was believed to be impossible could actually be done. So the beach ball, so often confiscated at the cricket, got a run in the crowd at Olympic basketball level.
Yet the Opals were playing a team stacked with talent down to the assistant coaches’ shoelaces. And as the US men showed against the Boomers the night before, with those capabilities the Americans were in a position to produce anything they put their minds to – and the Opals had to be ready.
They were. But the Americans just had too many options.