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Newcastle Herald
Newcastle Herald

Maley stars on debut as Opals lose thriller to Japan in Newcastle

HUSTLE: Anelli Maley drags in a loose ball during the Opals loss to Japan on Tuesday night. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

HIGH-octane forward Anneli Maley made an eye-catching international debut but it wasn't enough to lead the Opals to a series win against Japan, going down 69-67 in the decider at the Newcastle Entertainment Centre on Tuesday night.

In a see-sawing, high-tempo game that featured 16 lead changes, the Opals had a chance to snatch a win at the death.

They had the ball at halfway with 2.5 seconds on the clock, but the in-bounds pass was intercepted under the Japan's basket much to the disappointment of the 2500 crowd.

The Opals won the opening match of the series 72-66 in Sydney on Friday night, before a 56-55 defeat on Sunday.

Maley only arrived back in the country on Saturday from a short stint with the Chicago Fire in the WNBA. But the power forward made an instant impact with her energy and intensity. She scored 11 points to go with seven rebounds and a steal.

"It was everything and more than I expected," Maley said. "It was a dream moment for me. I wish we could have got the win. It is important for us to build experience going into the World Cup.

"Stepping straight of a plane into this team, it is pretty easy to get lost in the fast pace of it all. I had so much support in this sisterhood. The people around me made me feel so comfortable. It feels like such a family."

Sara Blicavs top scored for Australia with 15 points, while captain Cayla George had 14.

Australian were up 56-55 a minute into the final quarter. However Japan, who had seven members from the team which won Silver at the Tokyo Olympics, showed their experience down the stretch.

The series was a stepping stone towards the World Cup, which is being held in Sydney, starting September 22.

Liz Cambage's escalating rift with basketball Australia has overshadowed the visit by Japan.

The latest explosive allegations of racism and video of a violent on-court tussle in a friendly against Nigeria in the lead-up Tokyo Olympics came to light on the same day that the Opals went down 56-55 to Japan.

The WNBA star poured more flames on the situation on Tuesday, posting a statement on instagram where she refuted the claims.

One thing is clear, the 203 centimetre superstar won't be involved with the Opals any time soon, if at all.

A new crop of young players, minus the WNBA stars, were blooded against Japan.

Maley and Shyla Heal were front and centre in the opening quarter on Tuesday night.

Injected off the bench with 5: 37 left in the first quarter, Maley scored with her first touch, grabbing an offensive board and put back. She was fouled in the process and sank the free throw.

The 24-year-old NBL MVP was all action and had seven points at the first break.

Heal was equally impressive draining her first two shots from long range as the Opals opened a 23-18 lead at quarter time.

The visitors turned up the defensive heat early in the second period and also got hot from beyond the arc.

Maki Takada hit consecutive threes as the visitors drained four for the term to edge ahead 40-39 at the main break.

Captain George was the most productive for the Opals with 11 points, five rebounds and two assists.

Both teams shot at near 50 per cent from the field in the first half.

The Opals had most of their joy in the paint and they went there again in the third quarter.

Darcee Garbin, Sara Blicavs and Lauren Scherf got to work as they Opals went on a 9-2 run to lead 50-47 with 4:27 on the clock.

Japan, on the back of a couple turnovers, hit back late in the quarter to lead 55-54 at the last break.

The Opals offence dried under intense pressure. Maddison Rocci scored a bucket early but the Opals didn't score again until Maley drained a pull-up jump shot with 3:38 remaining. Japan led 63-58.

The Opals will have at least two more camps and a host of friendlies in the lead up to the World Cup, where Australia has been drawn in group B alongside Japan, France, Serbia, Nigeria and Canada.

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