SHOOTING FOR THE STARS: Opals veteran Penny Taylor will play at her third Olympics.
SHOOTING FOR THE STARS: Opals veteran Penny Taylor will play at her third Olympics. Getty Images

Brondello knows Opals have game to beat USA

BASKETBALL: They don't come any better qualified than Mackay's Sandy Brondello to comment on the Australian Opals' chances of winning an elusive Olympic gold medal in Rio.

The former pocket rocket point guard played with passion and tenacity, retiring after four Olympic campaigns, 302 appearances in the green and gold and five seasons in the WNBA in her 12-year playing career.

There was no fiercer competitor than the 170cm Brondello who - along with Robyn Maher, Shelley Gorman and Karen Dalton - was the heart and soul of Opals teams until the arrival of superstar Lauren Jackson at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, where they played the intimidating Americans for gold.

Just like the Australian Boomers men's team, the women have never beaten the USA.

But while the men are still hunting their first Olympic medal at their 14th Games, the Opals have appeared in gold medal shootouts three times against the USA - in 2000, 2004 and 2008 - and also won bronze in Atlanta in 1996 and London in 2012.

This time they want gold..

Brondello featured in Atlanta, where the Opals created history by beating Ukraine in the bronze medal game to secure Australia's first Olympic basketball medal, and also picked up silver medals in Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004.

As the current coach of the Phoenix Mercury - the 2014 WNBA champions - she has six of her playing roster involved in the Olympics, including veteran warrior Penny Taylor.

At her third Olympics, 35-year-old Taylor will captain the Opals in her last shot at golden glory before retiring this year.

Brondello saw enough encouraging signs from Liz Cambage, Taylor and others at New York's Madison Square Garden earlier this month, when the Opals went down fighting 104-89 to the USA in their final Olympic hit-out, to believe gold was achievable if things fell into place in Rio.

Australia trailed the USA 28-25 early and was within six points of the Americans at half-time.

"Any time you play the USA, you have to play at your best, to your potential, and hope they don't play at their very best because obviously they are the best team in the world,” Brondello told ARM Sports Bureau before the Opals' opening game against hosts Brazil tomorrow (6.30am AEST).

"The Aussies are one of only a few teams talented enough to push the USA forthe gold.

"It's realistic - anything can happen on any given day. If the girls put it all together on the day, they can do it.”

Brondello said it was unfortunate Australia had lost one of the best players in the world with the forced retirement of Lauren Jackson.

"When we first started playing the USA there (at the Olympics) it was intimidating, but it hasn't been like that for years and we always feel we can beat them,” Brondello said.

"We're known for never giving up and for competing hard.

"Yeah, on paper the USA have the best team in the world, you would think they're untouchable. You just have to be prepared and hopefully get them on the right day.

"It happened when they lost the World Championship (in 2006).

"It's about Brendan (Opals coach Brendan Joyce) getting them to peak at the right time.”

Brondello said the Opals' toughest game before the medal rounds would be its first, with Brazil in front of a crazy crowd.

It was important to win the first game to avoid a crossover on to the USA's side of the draw, she said.

She believes Cambage, who needs to avoid foul trouble, and sharpshooter Taylor will be key players for the Opals.

"Penny will be very good at getting into the paint and she draws a lot of attention, while Liz has that inside-outside attack,” she said.

"They can rattle them. You have to take it to the USA. You can't be on the back foot - you have to keep believing.”

Brondello, who has been grooming Taylor for a coaching position with Phoenix, said it would be a wonderful finale to Taylor's international career if the Opals won gold.

"Lauren Jackson is in the top three players in the world and Penny is right up there,” she said.

"The impact she has had on the Opals is amazing. Hopefully this Olympics can be the best moment of her life.

"She's the ultimate professional. I played with her for the last four years of my career. She's a high IQ player, she reads the game so well.

"She not overly athletic, but she knows how to score, she's very creative. She's a great shooter, she can drive, she can rebound and she can post you up. She's so versatile in her offence and she can pass - there are so many parts to her game.

"She is the ultimate team player, very unselfish, a great leader and teammate.”

Hopefully that can all add up to gold for her and the Opals.