Struggling Opals fall to China after last-second foul howler

The Australian Opals’ hopes of making the Olympic quarter-finals are hanging by a thread after losing to China on Friday night.

The Opals have lost their opening two games and now must thrash lowly Puerto Rico in their final game on Monday night and hope either France in Group B or the loser of Serbia and Canada in Group A lose by enough to fall below Australia as the two best third-placed sides.

If that does happen, they will end up facing one of the tournament’s top-four sides in the knockout quarter-finals.

China’s Meng drives to the basket against Cayla George.Credit:Getty Images

For a team which upset USA on July 14, they have looked a shadow of themselves until captain Jenna O’Hea nailed two three-pointers in the last 10 seconds to almost force overtime.

Instead China were given a dubious, late foul call with just 0.6 seconds to play which saw Yueru Li making two free throws to earn a 76-74 win.

The Opals can fume at a call which was rarely made during the game but they were left to lie in the bed they made in the previous 39 minutes where their offence stalled and their defence spluttered.

China deserved their win for both the energy of their offence and their aggression when chasing rebounds or defending close to the basket while the Opals again looked badly underdone due to only having three games together since qualifying for Tokyo in February 2020.

Australia’s Jenna O’Hea (4) and Ezi Magbegor (13) battle with China’s Yueru Li (14).Credit:AP

First-time Olympian Ezi Magbegor finished with 15 points on six of nine shooting but was starved of opportunities as the team’s offence was repeatedly stalled or disrupted by China.

Cayla George had 10 points but battled foul trouble while no-one on the Opals roster had a solution to slow wily guard Siyu Wang who led China with 20 points.

A confident China jumped the Opals in the first quarter nailing their shots and frustrating the Opals with a zone defence as China took a 27-19 lead into quarter-time.

The Opals were ordered to lift their defence in the second term and for a time they did as China’s hot shooting dried up and Australia took a slim lead.

Midway through the term the Opals lost WNBA guard Steph Talbot who missed the opening game with a foot injury and looked to have aggravated it painfully bringing her status for next game into question.

Late call-up Sara Blicavs was thrown into the game in an undersized line-up and she combined instantly with Southside Flyers teammate O’Hea as the Opals lifted but they went into half-time tied at 38-38 following a last-second three from China’s Mengram Sun.

China found their offensive chemistry in the third term while the Opals couldn’t find a line-up that worked as the Chinese took a 53-42 lead after Sijing Huang’s three.

China led 55-47 going into the last term and they continued to take the game to Australia in the last term as frustration grew and so did China’s lead.

The Opals need to find themselves again and hope luck falls their way in the final round of group games.

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