London: Opals vs USA Semi Final Preview
It's Semi Final time in London - read Marc Howard's exclusive preview of the Opals do-or-die clash with the USA.
Opals vs USA Semi Final Preview
Australia (5-1, 2nd Group B) vs USA (6-0, 1st Group A)
Tip-off: Fri 10 Aug 2:00AM (Australian Eastern Standard Time)
TV coverage: Live on Foxtel’s London 3 & London 3 HD from 1:50AM AEST
Team USA profile
The Opals look to avoid the fate of the Boomers when they face off against Team USA in a sudden-death Semi Final clash on Friday morning Australian time.
The Boomers ran up against the might of the USA men’s ‘Dream Team’ on Thursday morning in their own Quarter Final match-up and, despite a brave performance that saw them within three points in the third period, saw their Olympic campaign ended by the Americans.
The Opals will need to play the game of their lives to ensure that they don’t suffer the same fate as the men on Friday.
In some ways, the US women have had a more impressive campaign in London thus far than their men. The ‘closest’ any team has gotten to the US women was a 25-point loss by Croatia in the very first game of the tournament.
Since that match, the Americans have swept aside all opposition, including limiting African champions Angola to just 38 points and a 27-point win over the Czech Republic, who ended the Opals world championship title defence in 2010.
The US women are the raging favourites to win the gold medal in London. The Opals were also favoured to be the team that would meet them in the gold medal match. After all, the US and Australia have played each other in the past three straight Olympic finals, and haven’t met in the Semi Finals since the 1996 Atlanta Games. In London however the Opals overtime upset in the group stage at the hands of France sees the Australians needing to beat the Americans in a sudden-death Semi Final if they hope to make it back to the gold medal game.
Beating the US is going to no easy task. They are balanced and deep, with multiple weapons offensively and a fearsome defensive intensity.
Whilst America’s highest scorer in the tournament guard Diana Taurasi (12.7 points) ranks just equal eleventh amongst London’s top points getters, the US are still averaging as a team a tournament–high of 92.2 points per game. The next nearest offence is Australia’s, a full 20 points behind at 71.3.
The US have thus far evenly distributed the scoring load amongst their bevy of stars, with any given player capable of lighting it up to break open a match.
If the US have a weakness, it is their perimeter game. Whilst the Opals have had their own struggles from beyond the three-point arc, where they are shooting just 27.4 percent, the Americans are not much better at 29%.
Despite their perimeter inaccuracy, the US are still averaging an amazing 53.9% from the field in London, which is far and away the best percentage of any team in the competition. They have done this by generating easy baskets through their in-your-face defence and converting them at lightning fast pace into transition baskets.
The key sparkplug in the American offence is 175cm point guard Sue Bird. A teammate of Lauren Jackson’s at the Seattle Storm, Bird is averaging 5.2 assists and she controls the tempo for Team USA. Opals guards Kristi Harrower and Jenni Screen must find a way to disrupt her rhythm and pressure her without allowing her to penetrate the paint, where she excels at finding open teammates.
The US are averaging 11 steals per game (another tournament high) and if the Opals can’t be tidier than their current London average of 16.5 turnovers per outing then the US defenders will take advantage rapidly and score quick and easy baskets.
America also happens to be the best rebounding team in the tournament, averaging 52.3 boards per match. That is almost ten more than the Opals’ 42.5 average and will mean the Aussies must pay strict attention to boxing out on the defensive glass.
It would be easy for the Opals to settle for perimeter jumpers against the stifling US defence, as they are also the best shot-blocking team in the competition at 6.2 per game. The Opals will need to resist this urge however and need to find ways to ensure they deliver the ball to their trio of inside stars Lauren Jackson, Liz Cambage and Suzy Batkovic, who will enjoy a slight size advantage over their American counterparts.
This triumvirate of bigs will be the only distinct advantage the Opals will enjoy and Australia absolutely must find a way to take advantage of it. The trio need the ball early and often so that they can put pressure on the US bigs.
The Opals will play for a medal in London, of that we can be sure. If they hope for it to be a gold one, they must leave it all on the floor against the US and play with focus, tenacity and heart.
Opals Keys to Victory
- Make good entry passes to the Australian bigs in scoring position;
- Limit turnovers to ensure the US can’t ignite their running game;
- Lay a body on all five Americans on the floor whenever a shot goes up to deny the US offensive rebounds;
- Apply defensive pressure to Sue Bird at the point, denying here the ball if possible;
- Maintain poise and discipline if the US go on a scoring run, rather than panicking;
- Aggressively attack the body of the US shotblockers like Candace Parker and