Australia shook off their shooting woes to score a dominant 118-58 victory over Mali that put their FIBA Women’s World Cup campaign back on track.
The Opals are now 1-1, and you will likely need to win at least two of their last three matches to secure qualification for the quarter-finals.
The scale of Friday’s win at Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena could also be vital, as it could be the difference between qualifying in competitive Group B and leaving the tournament early.
Against Mali, Opals came within one point of their highest score ever in a World Cup match, and were posted against Malaysia in 1979 when Lauren Jackson’s mother was on the team.
“It was a huge blow for us,” Opals coach Sandy Brundello said. “I thought we came in with the right stiffness and more poise.”
The tournament’s lowest-ranked Malian only worried about Opals in the opening exchanges, taking a surprising 10-2 lead as the hosts struggled for both energy and accuracy.
But the Malians were prone to dirtiness and the hosts punished them from the bar. Eight separate players made free kicks, contributing 20 points from the Australian’s total.
Opals were particularly prolific from behind the three point line, shooting at 55%.
Australia only managed to shoot with an accuracy of 26.1% from the field against France, but improved that stat to 56, and seven Opals scored over 10 points.
In defense, they used their size advantage to spoil Mali, who never rediscovered her early charm.
“We got off to a slow start but once we got through those first post-match tensions, we took our step,” Opals center Mariana Tolo said. “We were able to get our flow and get some great looks from the three point streak and inside as well.”
In her second game again for the Opals, basketball legend Jackson helped stabilize the ship after Mali’s early rush.
Jackson and Tolo both sunk a pair of free throws shortly after entering the competition, but once Opal took an irreplaceable lead, the 41-year-old earned an early mark.
Australians would have had a major strike across the court without her.
Young gunner Izzy Magbigor stood with 15 points after a quiet showing against France, while Kayla George and Tess Madjean entered the entertainment mode with four threes each.
Australia’s win lifts them to a stalemate in the middle of Group B. Four of the six teams in Group B started the tournament with a win and a loss.
All six have a rest day on Saturday, then the Opals face Serbia on their next mission the following evening.
“Every match is going to be tough,” Tolo said. “It’s going to move a lot, so we only need to play one game at a time and that starts with Serbia.”
At the conclusion of the match after the second day, only China, Canada and the USA were defeated.
Canada posted a gritty 59-45 defeat over France to move a clear game atop Group B and close to a place in the knockout stage.
The United States brought Puerto Rico back to Earth with a 106-42 victory, which set the stage for a heavyweight fight with China on Saturday.
Serbia lost two of its biggest stars to retirement in the months leading up to the World Cup, but opened their account with a 69-64 victory over Olympic silver medalist Japan.