Australia has completed its impressive FIBA Women’s World Cup comeback, winning a fourth consecutive game to finish on top of Group B and ensure they avoid the USA until a potential final.
The Opals took down Japan 71-54 on Tuesday night in Sydney to finish with a 4-1 win-loss record, level with Canada but ahead via the head-to-head tie-breaker.
The hosts would have finished third in the group – coined the group of death – if France had joined them and the Canadians in a three-way tie. However the French lost earlier on Tuesday to Serbia.
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The pair of results mean Australia, the Group B winner, cannot face Group A winner USA or runner-up China in the quarter-finals, which begin on Thursday.
The group winners are also separated until the final meaning the Opals cannot face the Americans until that stage.
Australia will face either Belgium, who are without star Emma Meesseman through injury, or Puerto Rico who finished the group stage with a points differential of -59.
On Tuesday night the Japanese, already eliminated from the tournament, battled hard against an Opals side still missing star forward Bec Allen through a rib injury. She is hoping to be fit for the quarters.
The Opals led by just two at halftime before a big 20-9 third quarter, powered by seven points from Cayla George, opened up the lead to a comfortable position.
Japan had a glimpse of a comeback midway through the fourth when Kristy Wallace was called for unsportsmanlike conduct after knocking over her opponent, as the Opals – off the back of a physical game against Canada the night before – got into trouble.
But scoring dried up for both sides and the hosts then settled to seal the victory.