Star wishes the Nigerian basketball team luck at Tokyo 2020…
Star wishes the Nigerian basketball team luck at Tokyo 2020
Absent Australian basketball star Liz Cambage has sent a video pledging her support for the Nigerian women’s team at the Tokyo Olympics in a bizarre turn of events.
Just two weeks after withdrawing from the Games, and while under investigation by Basketball Australia over a physical and verbal altercation with the Nigerians in a Las Vegas scrimmage, Cambage was seen on the official account of the D’Tigress team.
SCROLL DOWN: OPALS SHOCKED BY GAMES DEBUTANTES
“To all my D’Tigress family, good luck at the Olympics,” Cambage said in a post hours before Nigeria played Team USA, and the same day the Opals were set to begin their campaign.
“Go get some hard metal. Let’s go.”
Cambage, whose father is Nigerian, walked away from the Opals, citing mental health issues.
“It’s something that happened behind closed doors,” Nigeria captain Adaora Elonu told News Corp of the scrimmage.
“There’s nothing we can really talk about with that.”
Nigeria put on a spirited display against the United States on Tuesday but dropped to an 82-71 defeat at the Saitama Super Arena.
“Us as a country, as Nigerians, we embrace everyone as Nigerian,” Elonu added.
“And she’s (Cambage) half-Nigerian, so, technically, we just see her as Nigerian.
“So, we embrace her as one of us, good or bad.”
Asked if Cambage crossed the line, Elonu kept it simple.
“You’d have to ask her that,” she said.
“It’s a question for her.”
The Cambage drama made for a tumultuous Olympics preparation for the Opals, who are looking to get back on the podium after their disappointment at the Rio Games.
“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” Opals captain Jenna O’Hea said last week of the circumstances that created a national news story.
“I think it was surprising to everyone,” O’Hea added.
“But we’ve got our 12 (players) here – Sara (Blicavs) came in.
“We’re just really excited to have 12 players here all aiming towards the same goal.”
BA is yet to provide detail of its investigation into the incident.
“The circumstances surrounding the incident that occurred during the scrimmage between Nigeria and Australia involving Liz Cambage are currently under investigation for a breach of the integrity framework and code of conduct,” a BA statement at the time of Cambage’s exit read.
OPALS SHOCKED BY GAMES DEBUTANTES
The Australian Opals were dealt a reality check on Tuesday night as life without Liz Cambage got off to the worst start imaginable.
Without their towering superstar, who withdrew from the Tokyo Games two weeks ago, Australia succumbed to an 85-70 defeat against a tough Belgium team inside the Saitama Super Arena.
Ezi Magbegor showed flashes of being the player the Opals will need her to be if they want gold, but Australia ultimately couldn’t keep pace with their fast-finishing European rivals.
After missing the podium in 2016, the Opals were after a good start in their hunt for Olympic redemption. Instead, they ran into a Belgian outfit looking to make a statement.
Belgium finished fourth at the 2018 World Championships, and third in this year’s EuroBasket competition, and were carried to the win by Emma Meesseman’s 32 points.
“It’s not the way we wanted to start this tournament,” Opals captain Jenna O’Hea said.
“But it’s definitely not the way we’re going to finish it.”
Australia took a 41-37 lead into the break, had a seven-point advantage in the third quarter, before Belgium turned on the clamps on the defensive end.
With no Cambage, Australia had talked up a new, more democratic approach that would spread the load on offence and defence. Still, every good team has a No. 1 option.
And while Magbegor had 20 points and eight rebounds in an impressive display, the Opals lacked a cutting edge with the game on the line.
The Opals managed just 16 points in the third and 13 in the fourth as head coach Sandy Brondello watched her team’s offence come to a grinding halt.
“That fourth quarter may come back to haunt us,” Brondello said.
“We were right there and they (Belgium) made plays, to be quite honest, and we didn’t.”
Magbegor had just six points in the second half as Belgium turned their attention to the Opals’ X-factor.
“Ezi played a really good game tonight,” Brondello said.
“She’s going to get better and better.
“She’s 21 years of age in her first Olympics. She’s pretty crafty for a young player.
“Obviously she’s important for us, but the most important thing was not to put too much pressure on her.”
Steph Talbot, who missed the game with a foot injury, is expected to return to the line-up when the Opals face China on Friday.
FIVE THINGS WE LEARNT
1. Opals miss Cambage
The Opals were always going to miss Liz Cambage’s scoring and presence in the paint at both ends of the floor, and it showed against Belgium.
The Australians were completely outclassed on the boards while their offence looked clunky, especially in the second half.
Cambage isn’t coming back for the Tokyo campaign, so the Opals must quickly regather themselves to avoid a shock group stage exit.
2. Magbegor is ready to star, but needs help
Olympic debutant Ezi Magbegor is a ready-made replacement for Cambage, but she can’t do it all herself.
Magbegor aggressively went after the game from the onset, attacking the rim with purpose while she produced strong defence and rebounding.
The 21-year-old WNBA champion with the Seattle Storm failed to maintain the rage in the second half, but she proved she is more than capable of excelling on the Olympic stage.
That said, it can’t just be the Magbegor show, and the rising centre will need help if the Opals are to stand on the podium in Tokyo.
3. Defence, rebounding and poor turnovers must improve
The Opals looked shaky in defence at stages, especially defending in the paint.
Of course, this is normally where Cambage holds fort, but the Australians possess the pieces to improve in this area.
And they’ll need to if they want to go deep at the Tokyo Olympics, especially without Cambage.
The Opals also need to be better on the boards, as they gave up too many second-chance points to the Belgium side while they produced a host of poor turnovers.
4. Opals missed Talbot’s shooting stroke
Opals forward Steph Talbot was a late withdrawal for the Belgium game with a foot injury, and the Australians really missed her offensive spark.
Talbot is a proven scorer, especially from range, so the Opals looked lost in offence at stages in her absence.
The Australians also needed more from fellow forward Bec Allen and point guard Leilani Mitchell in offence.
5. Bench stepping up will be crucial
Guard Katie Ebzery did a commendable job starting in the absence of Talbot, and she has a history of doing so.
The Opals were hit by injuries at the 2018 World Cup in Spain, forcing Ebzery to step up as the Australians surged to a silver medal.
Centre Marianna Tolo also impressed coming off the bench, with crucial points and defensive plays.
The Opals need all players to aim up to dig themselves out of this early hole following a shock loss to Belgium.
Originally published asLiz’s bizarre message as Opals shocked in Games opener