OPALS FINISH RUNNERS-UP AT FIBA ASIA CUP AND GRIFFIN EARNS TOURNAMENT MVP

OPALS FINISH RUNNERS-UP AT FIBA ASIA CUP AND GRIFFIN EARNS TOURNAMENT MVP

The Australian Opals have fallen by a point to Japan in the FIBA Asia Women's Cup final, losing 73-74 in their first expedition to the tournament.

Saki Mizushima was the heroine for Japan, putting on a thrilling shooting display to lead them to victory as she hit 7-9 from long range for 26 points including a number of daggers in the fourth quarter.

Trailing by six points at three-quarter time, Australia came out firing through Kelsey Griffin and Marianna Tolo (13 points, eight rebounds, two steals, two blocks) who combined to score the first nine points for the Opals of the final term.

Griffin was exceptional for the game, tallying 30 points, 15 rebounds, two steals and three blocks while the Opals' team defence was just as impressive, restricting Japan from scoring for over three minutes in the fourth term before Mizushima caught fire.

Tolo still drained a mid-ranger to tie the game with 1:30 remaining but Mizushima was there again and while the Opals got a stop inside the final ten seconds, they chose not to call a time-out and push the ball ahead to Tolo.

She made an awkward catch and dished the ball to Belinda Snell who put a shot up with contact on the buzzer but it never looked likely as Japan secured their third consecutive FIBA Asia Cup.

After Australia hit 12 three's in their previous meeting against Japan, Snell (nine points, seven boards, four assists) and Griffin knocked down consecutive three-pointers to start the gold medal game.

A 12-4 opening forced Japan into a time-out in just three and a half minutes as Griffin continued to exert her influence at both ends of the court, pulling down two offensive rebounds and swatting two blocks to set a physical tone for the Aussies.

However, once Japan settled, they were able to keep the deficit at a manageable level and while they fell behind by ten on the rebound count, they tied the score at the first break courtesy of some scintillating passing from Manami Fujioka.

Japan's speed continued to wreak havoc for the Opals defence as they knifed their way into the lane and their three-point shooting also became a concern through Yuki Miyazawa.

Australia returned to their strength inside with Tolo and Alanna Smith (six points, three rebounds) connecting on three-point plays and with a Steph Blicavs buzzer-beating capping a 12-3 run to end the half, Australia took the ascendancy.

Suffering from foul trouble, Lauren Mansfield did not start the third quarter with Ebzery taking over point guard duties and while it took the Aussies three minutes to hit the scoreboard, Ebzery (eight points, six assists) ended the drought with a three-pointer.

Mansfield then returned to the floor but picked up her fourth foul quickly before Steph Blicavs was called for consecutive fouls from beyond the arc with the resulting free-throws giving Japan a game-high eight-point lead.

Coach Olaf Lange turned to Tessa Lavey but she was only able to put together a couple of minutes before a leg injury forced her back to the bench and those disruptions to the back court did not help Australia's cause down the stretch.

Check out the stats from the final here.

Averaging 17.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.3 steals and a block per game, Kelsey Griffin capped off an incredible first tournament as a member of the Opals, taking out the tournament MVP while also being named in the All-Star Five.

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Following the heartbreak of Rio, the Opals have recovered to stake their claim as one of the powerhouses of Asia.

The three Australian debutantes for this tournament in Griffin, Mansfield and Smith proved they are comfortable and capable at this level and while the Opals did not win the FIBA Asia Cup trophy, they are well poised to be one of the serious contenders for next year's FIBA World Cup.

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