CANBERRA (FIBA Oceania Championship for Women/FIBA World Championship for Women) - Australia has confirmed their place at the 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women in Turkey with a come-from-behind 84-66 win over New Zealand in Game 2 of the FIBA Oceania Championship.
New coach Brendon Joyce was delighted to be heading to Turkey, and equally pleased with the progress his team made building their new identity.
"We felt if we played together we’d be ok, and that’s what we did," he said.
"The girls decided what the values are to be an Opal and we’re off to a good start."
The Opals weathered a fierce first-half storm from the Kiwis, who led by eight in the shadows of half-time thanks to the brilliance of Toni Edmondson (26 points) and Micaela Cocks (25 points, 9 rebounds).
But Olympian Belinda Snell caught fire in the third term to put the contest away, her 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting from long range complementing the steady work of Aussie superstar Lauren Jackson (21 points, 7 rebounds).
Both teams hit the ground running in an even first quarter, the Tall Ferns finding Cocks early to put her Game 1 shooting nightmare in the rear-view mirror.
With Edmondson running up nine early points the visitors threatened to steal the quarter-time lead, but the post presence of Jackson and five quick points off the bench from Kristen Veal gave the Aussies a 20-16 edge.
New Zealand maintained their impressive pace in the second term, troubling the Aussies with their ball movement and aggression in transition.
When Cocks and Lisa Wallbutton nailed back-to-back triples the Kiwis were in front, extending that to six after a lightning-quick drive from Edmondson.
But the Opals unleashed an 11-0 run to finish the half - highlighted by Kelly Wilson’s strong finish inside - before blowing the Kiwis away after the break to the delight of Jackson.
"The girls fought really hard to get that (deficit) back and I'm really proud," she said.
"I really feel this was a good start, personally and as a team."
Snell nailed three straight three-pointers to scramble New Zealand’s collapsing defence, then the Aussies picked them apart inside as they produced a clinical 27-14 third term.
"The defensive transition in that quarter was just terrible," Edmondson said.
"We got bad match-ups from that and they exploited that and got offensive rebounds."
When Jackson and Wilson opened the final term with five quick points the result was beyond doubt, with the Opals claiming the FIBA Oceania Championship for Women and a place at Turkey 2014.
Despite the defeat, Tall Ferns coach Kennedy Kereama took heart from the performance of his team featuring seven debutantes.
"You’ve seen from two first halves that we can obviously match it with the Australian team in that regard."