Opals eye Asia Cup gold in India

The Opals get their Asia Cup campaign underway in India against the Philippines on Tuesday.
The Opals get their Asia Cup campaign underway in India against the Philippines on Tuesday.

The Australian Opals' journey to Olympic qualification begins on Tuesday as their FIBA Asia Cup campaign gets underway.

Ranked third in the world, the Opals will be seeking redemption following a shock one-point loss to Japan in the 2017 Asia Cup final.

But coach Sandy Brondello is choosing to focus on the task ahead as Australia prepare to face the Philippines in Tuesday's opening group phase match in Bangalore, India.

The Opals also play New Zealand and China with the group winner progressing to Saturday's semi-final match, along with securing a place in November's Olympic pre-qualifying tournament.

After sweeping past China 98-63 in their final warm-up game in Canberra last week, Brondello stressed that success at the Asia Cup was about more than bringing home the gold medal.

"Everything is important now - to make the Olympics there are all of these qualifications so if we finish No.1 (at the Asia Cup), we have a higher ranking and a better group for the November qualifier," Brondello said.

"If you finish No.1 there, you have a No.1 seed going into a pre-Olympics (tournament)."

Brondello has set high expectations for her squad as they build towards the 2020 Tokyo Olympics but feels they are ready to take on the challenge.

"These girls are very professional. I don't have to push them too much, because they push themselves," she said.

Centre Liz Cambage, the driving force behind the Opals' silver-medal finish at the 2018 FIBA World Cup, is unavailable due to playing commitments with the Las Vegas Aces in the WNBA playoffs.

The Opals will also be missing 2017 Asia Cup tournament MVP Kelsey Griffin and experienced big Marianna Tolo.

But the return of WNBA players Leilani Mitchell (2019 WNBA Most Improved Player), Rebecca Allen and Stephanie Talbot will boost a balanced squad that is favoured to claim gold in India.

Despite only joining the team last week from the United States, Minnesota Lynx guard Talbot felt she had little trouble rejoining the Opals camp on the eve of the Asia Cup.

"Adapting to the group is easy - I've played (coach) Sandy's system a fair bit over the past few years so coming back in is natural to me," Talbot said, having also played under Brondello with the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury.

"We have a culture where anytime we come together, it doesn't take long for us to mesh together."

Australian Associated Press