THE Australian women's team have bounced back from a shock loss to France by beating Brazil in the third of their preliminary-round games, but they were made to work very hard in winning 67-61.
Brazil had lost each of their first two games, by 15 points to France and 10 to Russia. They came into this match needing to win to keep their hopes of making the quarter-finals alive, and they played with suitable desperation.
Australia now have two wins and one loss, and are right back on track to qualify for the quarter-finals and hopefully set up another Olympic final with gold-medal favourites the USA. But they are going to have to improve in some key areas to make it that far.
Australia, ranked number two in the world, began the game strongly, with Lauren Jackson and Liz Cambage scoring the first two baskets as the Opals led 2-0 and 4-2, but the world sixth-ranked Brazilians stuck at it and got a couple of leads themselves midway through the term, 7-6 and 10-8.
The Aussies began to get on top late in the quarter, and a two-pointer from Cambage followed by a three-pointer from Jackson to end the term gave them a 15-10 lead.
Apart from scoring the opening basket of the second quarter to momentarily cut the deficit to three points, Brazil weren't able to make a dint in Australia's advantage before halftime. The Aussies gradually extended their lead, with the Brazilians only making occasional inroads.
Belinda Snell, who landed the wonder shot from inside Australia's own half that enabled the team to force overtime against France, was at it again from three-point territory in this game - although from a more regulation distance.
She bombed a three to allow the Aussies to go 18-12 up early in the third, and that effort was followed by Jackson making her height felt under the basket to take an offensive rebound and score, for 20-12.
Brazil tried hard to stay in touch, but getting near halftime the Aussies stretched their lead into double figures. Three straight baskets - from Kristi Harrower, Suzy Batkovic and Cambage - saw the Opals go from 25-18 to 31-18, a 13-point advantage they took to the main break.
One of the main plusses for Australia in the first half was the fact their big players kept out of foul trouble. Jackson and Cambage both fouled out in the fourth quarter of the team's eventual overtime loss to France, but by halftime in this game Cambage had just one foul and Jackson none.
The scoring had been spread around among the Aussies in the first half, with Jackson and Cambage each contributing seven, and Batkovic, Abby Bishop and Samantha Richards four aapiece. Brazil had shot at just 17 per cent - six from 36.
But the Aussies made a sluggish start to the third quarter, and the Brazilians went on a 10-2 run to cut the deficit back to just five points, 33-28.
Brazil's smaller players were giving the Opals the run-around, and the Aussies had to up the intensity in a bid to match the suddenly frenetic pace. Australia steadied, getting back out to a nine-point lead, 37-28, but eventually Brazil cut it to five again, 43-38. Batkovic made a big impression at that point, coming up with a couple of baskets and a free throw to be integral in forcing the lead back out to 10 points, 50-40.
At the end of the third the Aussies led 51-40, and the game so far had been a very tough workout for them. It continued that way in the final quarter.
The Brazilians wouldn't give in, and after trailing by as much as 12 they got as close as four points down, 65-61, with just 16.3 seconds left. Australia closed it out from there.