Read Marc Howard's exclusive preview of the Opals Bronze Medal match against Russia.
Australia (5-2, 2nd Group B) vs Russia (4-3, 3rd Group B)
Tip-off: Sun 12 Aug 2:00AM (Australian Eastern Standard Time)
TV coverage: Live on Foxtelís London 7 & London 7 HD from 1:50AM AEST
Russian team profile
The Australian Opals must pick themselves up after the disappointment of their Semi Final loss to Team USA and prepare themselves for what promises to be a tough battle against Russia for the bronze medal early on Sunday morning Australian time.
It would be understandable if the Australians feel flat after their defeat on Friday, which ended their dreams of finally beating the USA and winning the Olympic gold medal that has thus far eluded them. After all, the Opals were right in the match until the final period when the US guards took advantage of the absence of Australiaís best perimeter defender Jenni Screen through an eye injury to help their team pull away.
Yet the Opals donít have time to contemplate what might have been. Medals Ė even bronze ones Ė arenít simply handed out at the Olympics. They need to be won.
The Australians might feel disappointed to be in the bronze medal playoff, but itís unlikely the Russians feel the same way. After all, they finished 3-2 in group play and were forced to overcome a tough Turkish team even to make it to the Semi Finals, where they were comfortably defeated by France for the second time in the tournament, 81-64.
The European Champions will undoubtedly be looking to ensure they leave London with some sort of medal, even if it is bronze. They will also no doubt be keen to reverse the result of their pool match against Australia, when the Opals eked out a narrow four-point win.
As a result of that win, Australia will go into the Bronze Medal game as favourites but the matches arenít played on paper and the Opals will need to bring their A game if they want to beat the Russians.
Specifically, they will need to avoid the offensive drought they suffered in the second quarter of their pool game against the Russians. In that period, the Opals managed just 11 points and struggled to find the basket.
Russia have been sound defensively in London, and have allowed opposition teams to score on average just 64.6 points per game.
The Europeans havenít been able to capitalise on their good defence as much however as their own offence has sputtered regularly and is averaging just 63.4 points per game.
As it has been throughout the tournament, the Opals beat Russia in their pool game on the back of their bigs. Liz Cambage had 17 points and Suzy Batkovic 15 to provide an inside presence that the Russians ultimately couldnít contain.
The Opals will need to ensure their ĎBig Threeí of Batkovic, Cambage and Lauren Jackson (who was uncharacteristically quiet in the Opals pool game against the Russians with just nine points) are all delivered the ball in scoring position regularly. That will put significant pressure on the Russian interior defenders and open up scoring opportunities for the Australian perimeter players when the Russian defence collapses to help.
Russia are a strong rebounding team, averaging 41.3 boards per game, so the Opals will need to ensure they body up on their opponents. In particular, the Russians average a handy 16.1 offensive rebounds per game so boxing out on defence is going to be critical.
In London Australia are averaging 8.2 points more per game than Russia thus far (71.6 compared to 63.4) so as long as they donít forget about defence altogether, this is a match-up where the Opals can focus on outscoring their opponents.
Russia has no one outstanding scorer, with naturalised American Becky Hammon leading the team at 11.1 per game. Opals players should be able to concentrate on shutting down their individual opponents without having to double-team as much as they did in many of their previous games.
For at least some in the Opals team, like veteran Kristi Harrower, this will be their last game ever at the Olympics. As long as they continue to focus on the things that got them into the Semi Finals, they should at least be able to leave London with a souvenir in a Bronze Medal around their necks. After all, there are eight other teams that were in London that would gladly swap places with them right now.
Opals Keys to Victory
- Pump the ball inside to their bigs and attack the Russian interior defenders;
- Donít allow the Russians to create additional scoring opportunities through their strong offensive rebounding;
- Stay aggressive offensively and force the Russians to try to match the Australian offensive output;
- Look for opportunities to create easy transition baskets by pressuring the Russian passing lanes and forcing them into turnovers.