Read our exclusive preview of the Opals Olympic Quarter Final against China.
Australia (4-1, 2nd Group B) vs China (3-2, 3rd Group A)
Tip-off: Wed 8 Aug 1:15AM (Australian Eastern Standard Time)
TV coverage: Live on Foxtelís London 5 & London 5 HD from 1:05AM AEST
After finishing second in Group B, the Opals will take on China in a sudden death Quarter Final on Wednesday morning at 1:15am Australian time.
The winner will move on the top four and the Semis, where they will likely play the undefeated US team if the Americans defeat Canada in their match as expected.
But, as Carrie Graf will undoubtedly be advising her troops, letís not get ahead of ourselves.
China will be no pushovers.
After all, China finished in the top four in Beijing, and are also the reigning Asian Champions.
In group play in London, the Chinese beat Croatia, Angola and the Czech Republic (the team that ousted the Opals at the Quarter Finals stage at the 2010 FIBA World Championships). They have proven themselves to be a quality side, with their only two losses coming to a red hot team from Turkey and the US.
They are led by 195cm centre Nan Chen, who has been averaging a tournament-high 17.6 points per game. She is efficient around the basket, shooting the ball at 51.3% from the field, and has also made 83.3% of her free throws. A solid rebounder (6.6 per game), Chen is a veteran of the Chinese team and this is her third Olympic Games.
Second on scoring for the Chinese is 183cm small forward Zengyu Ma, who is averaging 13.3 points per game. Ma is also averaging 5.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists, but has missed Chinaís last two group matches against Turkey and the US Ė the only two losses China has had. Ma has range and has made 6-of-10- three-pointers in the tournament to date.
Whilst Asian teams are often stereotyped as being units that drive-and-dish for three-point shooters, the Chinese have not actually found their range from the perimeter thus far. They are shooting the ball at 28.3% from three-point range, although this is marginally better than the Opals at 27.8%.
The Chinese offence is powered by 178cm guard Lijie Miao. Her ability to penetrate off the dribble has seen her average a tournament-high 7.4 assists, as well as 8.6 points and 3.4 rebounds. She has surprised many with her playmaking, as she had more of a reputation as a scorer after leading the Beijing Olympic Games in that category. The Opals will need to contain her and pressure her passes if they hope to stymie the Chinese offence.
The Opals had also better take care not to foul too often against the Chinese as they are the second best free-throw shooting side in the competition, making 82.4% of their attempts from the charity stripe.
The real weakness of the Chinese has been their rebounding. As a team they are averaging just 35.2 boards per outing. That is a full seven less than the Opals (42.2) and ranks them eleventh of the 12 teams in London ahead of only Canada. They are dead last in offensive rebounding, averaging just 9.2 per game, so the Opals will need to make sure they donít improve that average in their Quarter Final.
The Chinese defence has been very disciplined in London, and China are averaging just 12.2 fouls per game. Thatís the lowest of any team at the Olympic Games, so the Opals will have to work hard if they want to get to the foul line.
One of the real bugbears of the Opals London campaign has been their poor passing under pressure. The Opals are averaging 17.4 turnovers per game (third highest in London) but fortunately the Chinese defence hasnít been overly aggressive looking for the steal thus far (just 5.4 steals per game Ė second lowest in London).
The Opals will head into their Quarter Final as the raging favourites to beat China and advance to play the US in the Semis. If they donít get too far ahead of themselves, thatís exactly what they should be able to do.
Opals Keys to Victory
- Keep the ball out of Miaoís hands whenever possible and, once she gets the ball, pressure her to give it up;
- Find a way to limit the offensive production of Chen and Ma;
- Crash the glass at both ends of the floor and look to run out of defensive rebounding situations to create easy baskets and foul shots.;
- Look for deep catches in the post for Lauren Jackson and Liz Cambage, particularly in transition;
- Take care of the ball to limit turnovers and minimise additional shot opportunities for China;
- Play straight up-and-down defence against the Chinese bigs to avoid foul trouble and letting them head to the line where they can do damage.