France topple Opals in Olympic qualifier

Murray Wenzel

A loss to France has slowed Australia's trek to Tokyo, Opals coach Sandy Brondello admitting a lack of chemistry and composure is hurting them just six months out from the Olympics.

The Opals fell 72-63 to the hosts at the final Olympic qualification tournament in Bourges and must now win at least one of their remaining games against Brazil or Puerto Rico to feature in Tokyo later this year.

The world No.2 side never looked comfortable against the fifth-ranked French, with star centre Elizabeth Cambage's dominance again diluted by foul trouble.

Cambage finished with 19 points and 20 rebounds but registered three of her four fouls inside 70 seconds either side of three-quarter time in what proved a decisive swing.

Australia had rallied to get within three but with nine minutes to play in the final quarter, and Cambage warming the bench, the hosts had again shot to a double figure advantage.

Las Vegas's WNBA All-Star centre returned as Australia got back within five points in the final two minutes.

But Sandrine Grouda (16 points, 11 rebounds) iced the contest with back-to-back buckets.

"They (those three fouls) were tough to take but Liz I thought handled herself pretty well; she was a monster on the boards, we just needed to find ways to get her more of the ball," Brondello told AAP.

The French lead was built on 15 and nine-point runs in the first half as a frazzled Opals side struggled at both ends.

Rebecca Allen (20 points, four rebounds, four assists) emerged as a thorn in the French side in the second half, nailing her first four three-point efforts.

That bright spot wasn't enough to cover for their flat moments, questionable fouls and simple turnovers again frustrating the Opals in a throwback to their tedious loss to Japan earlier in the qualification process.

Only Allen and Cambage had more than eight points for Australia, who shot at less than 30 per cent from the field in a stunted first half that left them with too much work to do against the well-supported hosts.

"We just needed a little more from everyone really; I liked that we fought back but - forget the fouls - we were our own worst enemy," the coach said.

"We don't have the chemistry that we need right now and didn't handle their pressure but that's why games like these against top sides are actually good for us.

"We can sort things out but we need to learn and move on quickly."

The Opals next face world No.23 Puerto Rico on Sunday morning, who beat the higher-ranked Brazil (15th) earlier on Friday to move within reach of a maiden Olympic appearance after scraping into the final stage of qualifying.