THE Olympic campaign of Jenna O’Hea’s Opals got off to the worst possible start on Tuesday night, with the sixth ranked Belgium side handing them a 85-70 reality check at the Saitama Super Arena.
Inspired by a 32 point, nine rebound and five assist performance from forward Emma Meeseman, which included 22 second half points, the Belgians absorbed the early pressure from the fancied Australian team before putting them to the sword in the game’s final stages.
With much speculation surrounding the team following the last minute withdrawal of star centre Elizabeth Cambage, it was a rusty start from the Opals with poor shooting seeing them put up only 17 points and trail 21-17 at the first change.
However, the Australians were quick to show off their talent in the second stanza as they tightened up defensively and then proceeded to get their game flowing on the offensive end 24-16 to take a four point lead into the main break.
Full of confidence heading into the second half, the game would turn into a scrap in the third term as both sides hit a roadblock offensively and struggled to shoot the ball, with the rebounding tenacity of the Belgians paying dividends in creating second chance opportunities as they trimmed the margin to one heading into the final term.
With the game on a knife’s edge and an early strangle hold on Group C up for grabs, the Australian team would buckle under the pressure and let Belgium’s play makers get on top, with some big buckets from Meeseman and expert play making from guard Julie Allemand sparking a match winning 29-13 run in the final quarter.
Centre Ezi Magbegor, 21, was the star for the Opals, scoring 20 points and bringing down eight rebounds, while O’Hea provided some helpful production off the bench scoring six points along with her four rebounds and two assists.
Speaking after the game, the Traralgon-born captain said she expects the team to improve with time.
“That was a disappointing first game for us and not how we wanted to start this tournament,” O’Hea said.
“But it’s definitely not going to be the way we finish it so we’re looking forward to bouncing back against China on Friday.”
The Opals will have a chance to respond when they face China in their next group game at 10pm tomorrow night.
Belgium 85 (E Meeseman 32, J Allemand 16) defeated Australia 70 (E Magbegor 20, C George 12 points).