Relieved Opals ‘win ugly’ to book Tokyo berth
Liz Cambage has embraced the role of villain as Australia secured their Olympic berth and relegated a desperate Brazil in a 86-72 win.
The Opals led by 12 in their final Olympic qualifying game in France before Brazil, who needed a win to earn their Tokyo berth, rallied to lead by three in the third quarter.
Point guard Leilani Mitchell (19 points, four assists) was the steady head though, steering Australia out of trouble in an emotional win in Bourges.
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But after recent losses to both Japan and China late last year, the world No.2 will take plenty of confidence from prevailing in a physically and mentally taxing encounter as they now look to make up for a shock quarter-final exit in Rio four years ago.
A jubilant Cambage (29 points, seven rebounds) was in tears post game after battling a physical Brazil side and vocal French crowd, who were happy to side with the South Americans.
Australia's WNBA All-Star centre lapped that up though, playing to the crowd's jeers with every bucket, block and rebound in a result that also ensured Puerto Rico qualified for their maiden Olympic campaign.
"We're obviously very excited and credit to Brazil; they played well and sometimes you have to win ugly," coach Sandy Brondello said.
"We've done what we needed to do and I'm excited to have a bit more preparation time now.
"For us to get better we need to play games ... these games have been fantastic (to learn from) but we've got a long way to go to be at our potential."
Brazil haven't missed an Olympics since 1988 and threw everything at the Opals, who again let themselves down with cheap fouls and turnovers that built pressure when an easy win was in their sights.
Unlike in their loss to France, the Opals recovered in a positive sign ahead of July's Olympic campaign.
Rebecca Allen (16 points, four-of-five triples) completed a fine tournament with another sharp-shooting display while Brazil veteran Erika De Souza (17 points, nine rebounds) held off tears as she fouled out in what was likely her international farewell.
The Opals were beaten by Serbia in the Rio quarter-finals in 2016 to break a run of five-straight Olympic medals.
It will be former Opals playmaker Brondello's first Olympic campaign as coach, with captain Jenna O'Hea (hand) and Nicole Seekamp (ankle) both in the frame for a return after missing the French trip through injury.