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Australian Opals gathering momentum as they qualify for World Cup semi-final against China

The Australian Opals have booked their place in the 2022 FIBA Women's World Cup semi-finals.

After a storming win against Belgium on Thursday, they set up a blockbuster clash against heavyweights China on Friday night for a spot in the gold medal game.

Australia have been building and building as this tournament has progressed and — against a Belgium team missing their key piece in Emma Meesseman — the Opals took full advantage and bullied their way into the paint to score at will.

The Opals were focused on moving the ball and getting it into the hands of Marianna Tolo and Sara Blicavs in the post, and both made their early minutes count as they took what the Belgium defence was giving them and got to the basket.

A glorious Steph Talbot spin move that she finished with a lay-up got the crowd on their feet, and when Lauren Jackson checked in for the first time and immediately connected on a triple, the Sydney Superdome erupted.

There was a sense that this Opals team knew what it took to defeat Belgium and they executed that to perfection.

It all started with ball movement and building an inside presence that forced Belgium to guard the bigs in the paint, which then, as the game went on, opened up room for the shooters to do their thing from beyond the arc.

The consistency of the Opals on both ends of the court was absolutely elite and every player now has a clearly defined role, six games into the tournament.

In the biggest game of the tournament so far, Australia rose to the occasion and played beautiful, unrelenting basketball, defending for their lives down one end and moving the ball down the other to create open shots.

The Opals' 15-point half-time lead, at 52-37, only increased as the second half got underway.

Australia went on a 9-0 run to completely blow the game apart as the trio of Blicavs, Tolo and Cayla George went to work.

It took almost half-way through the third quarter for Belgium to finally break through Australia's defence and score, while all of Belgium's misses were immediately swallowed up by the Opals' rebound-hungry players.

Incredibly, Australia more-than-doubled Belgium's rebounds, finishing with an astonishing 48 to Belgium's 23.

This was the result of understanding the scout of Belgium being undersized, but also the clear and unwavering desire to get the job done.

There's nothing glamorous about rebounding — it's all about the want, and Australia had that in spades.

The second half became all about Cayla George as she followed up a dominant showing against Japan a day earlier with another monster performance of 19 points, 9 rebounds and 2 assists, leading Australia to a memorable 86-69 win.

Her response after being taken out of the starting line-up prior to the game against Japan has been nothing short of extraordinary.

Instead of dropping her head or complaining, she got on with the job and helped lead Australia to the semi-finals.

"It's a 'pinch-me' moment," Cayla George told the ABC after the win.

"A lot of hard work, physically and mentally, has gone into this moment right now and I probably won't reflect on it until later with my family, but it's well overdue and it's where the Opals should be.

"There's just been completely 'pinch-me' moments all the time.

"Playing with Lauren: pinch-me moment. Playing at home: pinch-me moment.

"All of it has just been pinch-me moments. I'm just really enjoying each moment, each day, and just trying to absorb it all."

For an Opals team that had many question marks hanging over their heads prior to the tournament, they have answered each challenge in resounding fashion, ever since dropping their opening game against France.

Many dreaded that result would be what this Opals group would be remembered for, but that is now a distant memory as they roar into a semi-final clash against China at their home World Cup.

In other results, Team USA handled business against a spirited Serbia, who hung around for the first half but were overrun as the game went on.

Kelsey Plum top-scored, with 17 points, while Alyssa Thomas (13 points, 14 rebounds and 7 assists) did it all as the USA came away with a 33-point win, at 88-55.

The gold medal favourites will face Canada in their semi-final after the Canadians proved far too good for Puerto Rico in their quarter-final clash.

Former star of the Canberra Capitals in the WNBL, Kia Nurse, led the way for Canada with 17 points in their 79-60 win.

China booked their tickets to the semi finals with a hard-fought win over France.

Sharpshooter Li Meng (23 points) was instrumental in the 85-71 win and Australia will need to guard her closely tonight if they want to play off for a gold medal on Saturday.

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