Standout performances from Sami Whitcomb and Ezi Magbegor have helped Australia to a 75-72 win over previously undefeated Canada that ensures the Opals will advance to the knockout stage at the women’s basketball World Cup.
The victory at Qudos Bank Arena improved Australia’s record to 3-1, meaning they are on track to finish in the top two of Group B and dodge a quarter-final meeting with red-hot tournament favourites the USA.
“We found our resolve and our grit, to find a way to win I think says a lot about these girls,” Opals coach Sandy Brondello said.
Bec Allen sat the game out after suffering a rib injury in the Opals’ win over Serbia and her absence was felt early as Australia struggled to stick with the sharp-shooting Canadians.
A verbal exchange between Australia’s Kristy Wallace and Canadian captain Natalie Achonwa proved the impetus for a 19-0 surge that helped the Opals turn a 14-point deficit into a five-point lead in the second quarter.
Wallace appeared to accuse Achonwa of playing for a foul and the Canadian fired back at her before sinking her two free throws.
They were to be Canada’s only points for the rest of the half as Australia increased their defensive pressure and racked up eight unanswered points to force a timeout.
After a quiet start to the tournament, Magbegor was the chief beneficiary of the Opals’ momentum, netting eight of the side’s 24 second-quarter points to help snatch the lead at the main change.
She was just as pivotal in defence.
Magbegor led all comers for blocks (five), one of which came in the final seconds as Canada threatened to steal the match back.
“Going into this game we knew it was going to be a tough one,” Magbegor told reporters.
“I think we’re getting better as each game goes.”
In the third quarter, turnovers cost the Opals and Bridget Carleton (16 points) inspired Canada to mount a fightback.
Both sides turned to desperate measures late in the term, conceding unsportsmanlike fouls in the final 90 seconds, but it was Canada who took a six-point lead into the final change.
Whitcomb and Steph Talbot played 34 and 36 minutes, respectively, with the former the Opals’ X-factor late in the game, and the latter their defensive anchor.
Punching her fist to the crowd and forcing a Canadian timeout, Whitcomb drew the scores level with a three-pointer.
She then came up with a steal that allowed Talbot to storm through the paint and shortly thereafter drained another three-pointer to help the Opals tighten the screws.
The New York Liberty guard finished with 15 points – nine in the final quarter – while Talbot sunk two free throws in the final 30 seconds that had her closing in on a triple double with 11 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.
“Both of those players were critical for us,” Brondello said of Whitcomb and Talbot.
Earlier, the USA kept their unbeaten run alive and posted a record for most points in a World Cup game by thrashing South Korea 145-69.
China, France and Belgium all posted wins that confirmed they would also advance to the quarter-finals of the tournament, while Mali and Bosnia & Herzegovina both lost their fourth straight games and cannot advance beyond the group stage.
Australia’s defeat of Canada also ruled reigning Olympic Silver medallists Japan out of the quarter-finals with one day remaining in the group stage.