Opals describe huge impact of Liz Cambage's Olympics absence

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·Sports Reporter
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The Australian Opals were devastated after their Olympic quarter final drubbing at the hands of Team USA, with the absence of Liz Cambage a key factor. Pictures: Getty Images
The Australian Opals were devastated after their Olympic quarter final drubbing at the hands of Team USA, with the absence of Liz Cambage a key factor. Pictures: Getty Images

Australian Opals coach Sandy Brondello and other senior players have described the massive impact WNBA star Liz Cambage's last-minute withdrawal had on the team after they were knocked out in the quarter-finals.

After narrowly making it into the quarter final thanks to a crucial victory over Puerto Rico earlier in the week, the Opals were sent packing in brutal fashion after a beatdown from Team USA, 79-55.

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The match was all but over after the reigning gold medallist Americans put a 19-1 run together in the first quarter.

For three-time silver medallists Australia, the early exit follows a quarter-final loss to Serbia in Rio five years ago and caps a campaign that was flipped on its head by WNBA All-Star Cambage's absence due to mental health reasons.

Despite an impressive victory against Team USA in a practice match prior to the Olympics, without Cambage in the team, it was clear her absence had robbed the Opals of a key presence.

In the pool matches, a disappointing loss to Belgium was followed up by a nail-biting and heartbreaking loss to China.

Brondello had tried to downplay Cambage's absence, but after their limp exit couldn't keep up the charade.

"It's been a really interesting few weeks that we've had to deal with ... losing a big part of our team and trying to find our identity," she said.

"It was hard as a coach when you have a player in and the last minute taken out, especially with the limited preparation (with two games in 18 months due to COVID-19).

"Lack of preparation (hurt) and maybe a little bit of emotional energy ... it wasn't easy, I was pretty drained to be quite honest.

"Liz, she's one of the best players in the world."

The Opals had won medals at five-straight Games, three times losing in the gold medal game to the United States.

They were never in with a chance in Tokyo though, despite Leilani Mitchell's (14 points, six assists) best performance of the tournament and another strong Cayla George (11 points, seven rebounds) showing.

Breanna Stewart was the architect for the United States with 23 points while Chelsea Gray had eight assists and Brittney Griner (15 points, eight rebounds, two steals, two blocks) did as she pleased.

Liz Cambage absence cruelled Opals hopes of Olympic medal 

It wasn't just Brondello who pointed to the absence of Cambage, one of the most elite low-post players in women's basketball, as one of the reasons behind the disjointed Tokyo campaign.

Veteran centre Marianne Tolo, who took the starting spot in Cambage's absence, as well as sharpshooter Leilani Mitchell, said there was no doubt the loss of the Las Vegas Aces star had hurt them.

“It was really hard,” Tolo said.

“Especially being so close to the Olympics, we didn’t have much time to adjust.

“I think that was the biggest thing. We’re used to playing with her and playing a certain way and then finding our feet after that didn’t feel as comfortable.”

The Opals were shattered after their heavy loss to Team USA in the quarter finals at the Tokyo Olympics. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
The Opals were shattered after their heavy loss to Team USA in the quarter finals at the Tokyo Olympics. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Mitchell echoed Tolo's sentiments, saying the Opals had faced a race against time to adjust their game plan.

“Just with the drama and things that were happening leading into it and obviously Liz, who is arguably the best post player in the world, all of a sudden she’s not here with us where we’ve built our system around her," she said.

“Obviously it was a lot of adjusting we had to make in a few days, and it didn’t really work out for us.”

The United States will play Serbia, who came from behind to beat China 77-70, in the semi-final.

Japan meet Belgium and Spain play France in the other quarter-finals.

With AAP

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