This one could get heated.
The Opals step out for their third game of the FIBA World Cup on home soil against arch rival Serbia.
Can the Aussies avenge their qualifying defeat and give a huge boost to their World Cup chances?
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Q4: AUSTRALIA 69-54 SERBIA
— Too tough, too skilled, and wanted it too much. These Opals were never going to allow a repeat of the last time these two teams met. It was a physical battle but no war of attrition as every time the Serbs tried to hit back, the Aussies had an answer. Ejected in farcical circumstances the last time these two teams met, Steph Talbot was brilliant with eight first-half points, while Lauren Jackson provided the early spark, producing an efficient nine points in 10 minutes. Marianna Tolo was dominant with 12 points and five dimes, while Sami Whitcomb fought through a busted nose to knock down 10 points and prove a monster on defence.
— New York Liberty WNBA star Bec Allen has gone down twice in the last quarter.
Early in the quarter, she went down after rolling her ankle, but called for the tape, re-strapping it and getting back out onto the floor.
But, with the Opals home and hosed, she went down again and this appeared more serious. Sandwiched between two Serbs, she hit the deck hard and stayed down, with play stopped.
It appears to be a back injury as She was jammed between two hips.
Allen, quite franly, was sublime for the Opals. She led the way with 16 points to go with five rebounds, two steals and two blocks in an all-court performance that the Serbs had no answer to.
Q3: AUSTRALIA 53-43 SERBIA
— An 18-point lead becomes 11 as the Serbs score seven straight. Unbelievably, Whitcomb’s back out on the floor and she immediately drained a steadying three. Stunning stuff. We’ve seen some Lauren Jackson in the third quarter for the first time in the World Cup. Aussies by 10 at the last change.
AUSTRALIA 51-37 SERBIA: OPAL BLOODIED
— Dynamic Opals guard Sami Whitcomb copped an errant arm to the nose and she knew straight away she was in trouble.
“F—ing broke my nose,” she screamed at the refs as blood streamed from it and a cut appeared.
Incredibly, the tough nut stole the ball on the play before the refs called time for her to get attention.
“Blood’s pouring out onto the floor,” Opals great Michele Timms said.
The game was stopped for a couple of minutes as the floor was cleaned.
Nevena Jovanovic immediately reached for the stricken Opal after the contact.
“Great sportsmanship,” Timms said.
“She knew she collected her and had her arm around her while her team was playing offence.”
— AUSTRALIA 42-28 SERBIA
Opals coach Sandy Brondello urged her charges to hit the ground running in the third quarter. Bec Allen listened. She drained one from the corner, then burrowed her way to the hole for the first four points of the half to extend the Aussies’ lead to double digits. The defence from the Australians is as good as it gets at international level. They’re swarming and harassing, helping each other and making life incredibly tough for the Serbs on every offensive set. Cayla George picked up three fouls in a minute — two offensive — to momentarily halt the Opals’ momentum, but the Serbs could not capitalise. Allen was the first Opal in double digits as they piled on 10 straight points.
Q2: AUSTRALIA 36-28 SERBIA
— Two early turnovers and then a three ball off a play that looked like it should have been an over-and-back call on the Serbians shredded the lead to three in the blink of an eye. The sublimely talented Bec Allen hit back with a slick free throw line jumper to wrestle the ascendancy back. Steph Talbot — who was ejected the last time these two teams played — produced the moment of the match when she drained a deep three from the wing off a pinpoint Bec Allen feed. It was one for the highlight reels for Allen’s unselfishness and the blissful way the ball plunged through the twine without touching the rim. She then tore the Serbs apart with a slicing cut to the hoop to add to the damage and leads the way for the Opals with eight points. Allen has been brilliant with her standout basketball IQ allowing her to make the right decision on almost every play. Yvonne Anderson piled on 30 points in the February meeting and she is again a thorn in the side of the Opals with 14 points at the long break — half the Serbs’ score. Lauren Jackson and Sami Whitcomb have seven each for the Aussies.
Q1: AUSTRALIA 18-10 SERBIA
— Lauren Jackson has put her stamp on this clash early, hitting a big three and living at the free throw line for the second game in a row. The Australians have swarmed on the defensive end, making life tough for the Serbians and forcing five turnovers and a number of under-pressure shots late in the clock. The Aussies forced five shot clock violations. Jackson leads the way with five, the Opals sharing the points among six scorers.
— There will be plenty of eyes on Steph Talbot tonight after she was the victim of some shoddy refereeing — and some great acting — the last time the Opals squared off with Serbia.
The Aussies went down by seven in a World Cup qualifier earlier this year, with Talbot sent from the floor in an incident Opals legend Michele Timms labelled “a love tap”.
“She went down like a sack of potatoes,” Timms said on ESPN of the flopping Serbian.
Talbot had possession of the ball and made contact with Serbian Jovana Nogic’s face.
One of the referees bizarrely labelled it “an act of violence” during the review, which was overheard on the live broadcast at the time.
Ref 1: “In my opinion this is deliberately on the face of the opponent — This is disqualifying foul for number 10 (Talbot).”
Ref 2: “You mean this is an act of violence?”
Ref 1: “Yes. This is disqualifying foul. She don’t play basketball. She just want to hit the opponent in the face.”
Talbot has had a difficult start to the campaign — she went 1-9 for five points in 30 minutes in the loss to France and then, as every other Opal filled their boots against Mali, her minutes were cut in half and she made none of her four field goal attempts.
Nogic went scoreless with four turnovers against Canada, but bounced back with a team-leading 13 points and nine rebounds in the win over Japan.
Both teams are 1-1, so whoever wins gets some separation.
‘Ultimate bodyguard’: Opals ready for revenge against bitter enemy
The Opals are preparing for a physical war against Serbia on Sunday in a replay of their controversial World Cup qualifying loss to the Europeans in February.
The Australians suffered a 78-71 loss to the Serbians in a match marred by an incident involving Opals forward Steph Talbot, who was ejected from the game in the second quarter after she was hit with a flagrant foul.
Seven months on, Australia and Serbia will battle again, this time in a crucial World Cup game that will determine final Group B standings.
FOLLOW FOR LIVE UPDATES FROM THE OPALS CLASH WITH SERBIA
The Opals are focused on building momentum after a dominant win over Mali, but former Opals captain Jenna O’Hea hasn’t forgotten about Talbot’s contentious ejection against the Serbians.
“It was soft – that won’t happen on home soil,” O’Hea said on ESPN.
“Steph will be fine.”
Opals legend Jenni Screen believes Australia’s greatest player Lauren Jackson will serve as the ultimate bodyguard for Talbot or any player should Serbia turn up the heat physically.
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“And Lauren will be supporting her from behind,” Screen said.
“If anyone is getting pushed around from the Opals, you know Lauren will be the first one, if she is on the court, to back up her sisters.”
The Opals have experienced heartbreak against Serbia in recent times.
The toughest pill to swallow was Australia’s shock 73-71 loss to the Serbians in the quarter-finals at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The defeat ended the Opals hopes of winning a medal for the sixth consecutive Olympics.
Screen is expecting another torrid affair when Australia plays Serbia on Sunday from 6pm (AEST).
“It’s going to be physical; it’s going to be a battle and a grind for 40 minutes,” she said.
“We ain’t knocking this one out of the park in the first quarter.
“Serbia is here to play. They want an upset; they want to finish in the top two and so do we.
“France may be the kick up the backside that we needed in that first game.
“You never want to lose, but I think it may have sent us on the trajectory that we need.”
Opals guard Sami Whitcomb is anticipating a significant step up in intensity against Serbia.
“Mali was a massive win, and it was so good for our group to execute and get good shots, but we understand that the level of pressure and skill against Serbia is going to be different,” Whitcomb said.
“We’ll prepare for that, and we know it is coming.”
Originally published as Australia v Serbia FIBA Women’s basketball World Cup: Opals start time, teams, stream, TV