Young guard Jade Melbourne created a wave of Opals in the final quarter as Australia came from behind to beat Japan 72-66 in the first game of their three-game women’s basketball series.
Most important points:
- Jade Melbourne, 19, came off the bench to score 11 points in Australia’s come-from-behind victory over Japan on Friday
- The Opals have two friendlies left to play as they prepare for the 2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup in Sydney in September
- Basketball legend Lauren Jackson may return to the Opals after retiring this year to play in the WNBL
Australia defeated Japan 16-5 in the last quarter at Sydney’s Quaycentre on Friday, clearing a five-point and three-quarter deficit.
With some of their best and most experienced players unavailable due to foreign club commitments – and featuring head coach Sandy Brondello, center Zitina Aukuso (illness) and guard Madison Rocci (hamstring) – the Opals showed good depth to the reigning Olympian. overcome silver medalists.
The Opals led by six at quarter and half time, but were beaten 22-11 in the third quarter when Japan pushed Australia out of their attacking rhythm and started to find some easier baskets.
While Australia was looking for a lift, Melbourne, 19, injected the team with energy coming off the bench, proving intensity and execution on both sides.
Incredibly, Japan scored just one point and no field goals in nearly the first nine minutes of the final quarter as Australia mounted the pressure.
Melbourne (11 points) was a pivotal figure in Opals’ battle and proved to be a key player for stand-in head coach Cheryl Chambers.
Captain and center Cayla George (10 points, 10 rebounds, six assists), guard Tess Madgen and striker Sara Blicavs were other players who shone.
“I think Tess and Cayla have done a great job. They are the senior leaders of the group,” Opals assistant coach Shannon Seebohm told ESPN.
“But I thought young Jade came in Melbourne and really energized us in the fourth quarter and turned the tide for us.
“I’m very happy with how we played. I think the girls stuck to the defensive plan for most of the game.
“We have a lot that we can improve for the next game.”
The Opals are set to be reinforced for the last two games of the series at the same venue on Sunday and in Newcastle next Tuesday.
Striker and 2021-22 WNBL MVP Anneli Maley – who has been cut by her WNBA side Chicago Sky – returns to Australia.
Among the spectators on Friday was legendary Opals center Lauren Jackson, who has made a successful comeback from her injury-forced retirement, averaging 31 points and 13 rebounds per game for her local NBL1 club, the Albury-Wodonga bandits.
That has fueled speculation that Jackson could make a belated bid for the Opals squad for the World Cup in Australia later this year.
However, asked on ESPN if people could fantasize about her queuing for Australia, Jackson said: “That would certainly be a fantasy, but I don’t know. We’ll see what happens and how the body holds up.”