Cambage ejected as Opals fall to Japan

Darren Snowdon
Liz Cambage's expulsion cost the Opals as they went down to Japan in their pre-Olympic qualifier

The Australian Opals have finished second in their Olympic pre-qualifying group after going down 82-69 to Japan following Liz Cambage's ejection in the fourth quarter.

The Opals were aiming to top Group B and earn a higher seeding for February's final qualifying tournament in China but Japan ran out convincing winners on Sunday at MABA Stadium in Kuala Lumpur.

Australia fought back from a 17-point deficit to trail by four after Cambage shot truly over two defenders with less than eight minutes on the clock.

But after picking up a technical foul in the first half, the Opals centre was ejected when she earned her second by gesturing at the referees for not awarding a foul following the made basket.

With Cambage out of the game, Japan outscored Australia 18-9 the rest of the way to complete a 3-0 sweep of the tournament.

The Opals boasted a number of world-class players in their squad, including WNBA stars Cambage, Bec Allen and Leilani Mitchell, but Japan's unique style of play once again exposed them at the defensive end.

Japan connected on 11 three-pointers in the first half, eight of those coming in the opening period, to put the Opals on the back foot, then answered every challenge to chalk up another impressive win over Australia.

Cambage still finished as the Opals' leading scorer with 17 points while Jenna O'Hea added 14.

After falling to Japan at the 2017 and 2019 Asia Cup tournaments, Australia went straight to their trump card on the opening possession with Cambage scoring the first points of the game.

But Japan stunned the Opals by hitting their first eight shots, five of those from beyond the arc, on their way to a 30-16 advantage.

The Opals clawed their way back in the second quarter to trail 33-29 but their hard work was undone as Saki Hayashi drilled two triples and Yuki Miyazawa added another as Japan closed the half on a 14-5 run to lead 47-34.

A 12-4 start to the third quarter saw the Opals reduce the margin to five but Japan halted Australia's run and Asami Yoshida drilled another long bomb in the dying seconds for a 64-53 edge.

O'Hea kicked off the final quarter with a three-pointer and Cambage scored twice to cut the gap to 64-60 but the Opals' chances of completing the comeback were dashed once their star centre was forced to leave the game.