Tokyo 2020: Wrap-up

August 11, 2021 | Melbourne Boomers news

It was July 2021, and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games were finally here. After a year of massive highs and lows and a wait that seemed like it would never end, we got to watch our world-class Australian basketballers in action!

Everyone in Deakin Melbourne Boomers HQ had ‘shotgun’ the couch, secured the rights to the TV remote and buckled in for a wild ride of afternoons and late nights, cheering our Australian Opals and Australian Boomers on at the top our lungs from afar, as history was made, and their fighting spirit kept us on the edge of our seats.

The Melbourne Boomers cohort representing Australia included, dual Olympian, Cayla George, as well as Tess Madgen & Ezi Magbegor making their Olympic debut. Melbourne’s Head of Medical, Dr. Gaylene McKay, also accompanied the Opals as Lead Physiotherapist.

The Opals came up against Belgium in their first Olympics appearance to kick off the group stages on the 27th of July.

In only their third full game together since Olympic qualifying in February 2020, Opals were neck and neck for majority of the game.

Trailing by four at the first break, George showed her dominance, scoring 10 second-quarter points of her total 12 (plus, 10 rebounds).

Belgium remained within three (four?) points at half time (41 – 37), while a crucial three from Madgen saw the Opals one point in the lead before the final quarter.
Magbegor continued to show the world how effective she is at both ends of the court, with a team-high 20 points, eight rebounds and two blocks, but Belgium were ultimately too strong in the final quarter, Opals unable to pull off the win, going down 70 – 85.
The game against China three days later was crucial to maintain a secure path through to the knock-out rounds, but it wasn’t to be. The Opals suffering a heart breaking two-point defeat in the final moments, 74-76.

China’s lead had blown out to an 11-point advantage in the third term, the Opals managing only 9 points – Magbegor scoring almost half of these.

A triple from George in the opening moments of the fourth quarter gave the Aussies hope but wasn’t enough to stop China’s scoring run, until Mariana Tolo scored back-to-back, signalling the start of a gutsy comeback.

Trailing by 11 points with seven minutes left in the final term, Magbegor (15 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals), Katie Ebzery (9 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists), and Captain, Jenna O’Hea (11 points) led a heart-stopping comeback. O’Hea leading her side and nailing crucial threes with seconds left.

Scores were level, with six seconds on the clock, when a controversial foul was called on George. China’s Yueru Li made both her shots from the line to secure China’s win.

Australia’s nerves were shaken but hope wasn’t lost. Grit and determination is what we do best.

The Opals knew what they had to do – re-group and not let anything get in their way of the 25-point win they would need over Puerto Rico to progress through quarter finals ahead of Canada.

Puerto Rico weren’t going to take the Opals lying down and fought hard against the Aussies who were looking for their first win after two group stage losses.

Leading by only a point at the halftime break (45-44), the Opals were playing nowhere near their best. Desperately needing to find their form if they were going to progress to the knock-out rounds.

The Opals didn’t disappoint, staging a thriller comeback in the final quarter to win by 27 points – 2 more than the 25 needed to make it through to the quarter finals. Bigs, George (19 points, seven rebounds, five assists), Magbegor (10 points in 17 mins court time) & Tolo our key difference in helping secure the 96 – 69 final score.

Drawing the USA (who went on to win gold) in the sudden-death quarter final match-up two days later, saw the Aussies (world number two) go down to the world number ones, 55 – 79, ending our medal hopes.

George was consistent, as always, landing 11 points and seven rebounds, and along with point guard, Leilani Mitchell (16 points, six assists, three rebounds and shooting 40% from the three) was one of Australia’s best performed players. Although USA were simply too strong – Magbegor’s Seattle teammate, Brianna Stewart (23 points, five rebounds, three assists) had a standout Olympic performance, with 8-10 from the field, along with Brittney Griner (15 points, eight rebounds) and Chelsea Gray (eight assists, seven points).

Final standings for Tokyo 2020 resulted in USA continuing their dominance, walking away with their seventh straight gold. Japan captured hearts with an amazing performance to secure silver on home soil, and France beat Serbia for bronze.

While our women didn’t get the result they were hoping for, their pride and dedication in representing their country shone through – creating a team, that as a country, we are incredibly proud of.

This wasn’t the end of the basketball action! Men’s basketball also did not disappoint.

The USA walked away with their fourth straight gold and France with their third Olympic silver (87 – 82).

Call us bias, but right up there as another of our favourite moments for Australian basketball, was the Australian Boomers bringing home their first ever Olympic bronze, in a 107-93 win over Slovenia.

After years of heartbreak and near misses, Patty Mills was instrumental in the history-making defeat. In the paint, Mills put on a performance for the ages, with a dizzying 42 points, 48% field goals hit, as well as 9 assists and being named on the Tokyo 2020 Men’s All-Star Five.

Tokyo 2020 ended as the third most successful Olympic campaign for Australia. In the second biggest Australian Olympic team of all time (behind Sydney 2000), 53.7% were female athletes, and 16 Indigenous Australians got to represent their country, the most ever.

The games may be over but that just means you only have to wait three years until Paris 2024!
In even better news, the FIBA Women’s World Cup 2022 is being held in Sydney in September next year. Look out for the Opals to regroup and bounce back from this Olympics campaign.

Some exciting times ahead for women’s basketball.

Image credit: FIBA/Basketball Australia