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Opals determined to regain sparkle in 2012

Author imageAOC03 Oct 2010
Opals determined to regain sparkle in 2012

The Opals plan to wash their mouths out of the bitter taste of the 2010 world championship as quickly as possible before plotting a return to the podium at the London Olympic Games.

Australia's 74-62 win over France on Sunday left them in fifth place in the Czech Republic, their worst finish in a major tournament in 20 years.

The Opals plan to wash their mouths out of the bitter taste of the 2010 world championship as quickly as possible before plotting a return to the podium at the London Olympic Games.

Australia's 74-62 win over France on Sunday left them in fifth place in the Czech Republic, their worst finish in a major tournament in 20 years.

The last time Australia finished so low at an Olympics or world championship was when an Opals side still finding its feet at international level came sixth at the 1990 world titles.

An inspired host nation stunned Australia in the quarter-finals on Friday and the Opals are still struggling to deal with the sudden end of their title defence.

"It tastes bitter right now, it has for the last two days and it's not going to go away," coach Carrie Graf told AAP.

"It's like any championship you lose, you remember those.

"You've got to learn from it and taste it and make sure it fuels this team and me for the next two years to make sure that we learn from that experience.

"We couldn't buy a basket and there's obviously strategic things we can change.

"It is a bitter pill, but it's in our mouth and we've got to taste it."

A golden generation including Lauren Jackson, Penny Taylor and Belinda Snell, who have ended their first major events without a medal, will still be in their prime in London, while Graf will try to convince point guard Kristi Harrower to continue for one more Olympics.

But the most exciting element of the Opals' future is centre Liz Cambage. After a slow start to her first senior tournament, the 19-year-old ended it averaging a team-high 13.6 points per game, plus 5.4 boards and one block.

"Her growth over the last 18 months has been monumental and she's still got so much to learn," Graf said.

"Look at her earlier in the tournament and she learned how to cope with the style and the referees and she evolved - with opponents and with our team.

"She'll continue to grow if she does the work and it's a long road.

"She did wonderful things and exceeded our expectations a little bit and credit to her."

Jenna O'Hea, Marianna Tolo and Abby Bishop all showed good signs in their first major tournaments, while Hollie Grima and Erin Phillips have improved and still have plenty of time on their side.

Cambage has already vowed Australia won't be in this position again.

"It was a great experience, but you learn lots of lessons and I'm a bit sad it's over really," Cambage told AAP.

"I had a bit of a rocky start and was a bit off, but in the end I found my bearings and kept playing.

"This is never, ever happening again. Never, ever, ever, ever.

"Gold medals from now on."

Graf wants her best players to sit out a season of the American WNBA to remain in Australia to prepare for the London Olympics.

The idea has been floated in the past, but it would cost Basketball Australia a considerable amount of money to compensate the likes of Lauren Jackson, Penny Taylor and Liz Cambage.

Having seen Australia slip from defending champions to fifth at the basketball world championship, however, when the complete Opals group only came together two days before the tournament, Graf is pushing the idea hard.

"That's something I'd like us to work with Basketball Australia to get done for the London Olympics," Graf told AAP.

"Whether we can make it happen or not we'll see, but that's been in the plans and been presented and we've talked about it."

There's no doubt Jackson and Taylor suffered significantly from fatigue in the Czech Republic, with the two producing their worst tournaments for Australia.

\Jackson's first major event was the 1998 world titles while Taylor debuted at the 2002 world championship and neither had finished without a medal until now.

Jackson, who won a championship with Canberra at the start of the season and another with Seattle in the WNBA, had two days off before heading to the Czech Republic.

Her shooting touch suffered badly, managing just 37 per cent from the field (37-of-100) and 17 per cent from three-point territory (5-of-29) to end the event averaging 13.4 points per game. Taylor put up similar shooting percentages.

"They've played year-round for 10 years now and it shows," Graf said.

"They're 29, but they've probably got 35-year-old basketball bodies.

"We tried to manage their minutes and they tried as hard as they could, we played like Aussies, sometimes there's just no juice in the tank."

Jackson is relishing the chance for some time off.

"I'm definitely fatigued. No-one would doubt that for one minute," she told AAP.

James Dampney
AAP

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