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Jackson one step closer to fifth Olympics

Two huge blocks in the final seconds and a clutch three-pointer from veteran Cayla George helped the Australian Opals overcame what could be their biggest challenge on the path to the Paris Olympics, taking down Brazil in Brazil in the first of three crucial qualifiers.

Defying a raucous home crowd and a spirited second-half comeback from the Brazilians, ranked eighth in the world, George and Ezi Magbegor made the crucial late defensive plays to secure the 60-55 win at Arena Guilherme Paraense.

Magbegor and Bec Allen led the way for the Opals on the scoreboard with 18 and 14 points respectively, with Magbegor nearly perfect from the field.

But it was George, who nailed her first three-pointer of the game with 1:02 on the clock to break a scoring deadlock and give the Opals a three-point lead.

Then as the clock ticked down, first George then Magbegor stopped Brazilian scoring efforts to secure the victory.

“We found a way to win,” Magbegor said.

“When offence dries up we have to go to our defence and I think that’s what won us the game.”

Legendary Lauren Jackson, looking to make a fifth Olympics aged 42 after her stunning career revival, had five rebounds and two points in her eight minutes on court.

The Opals, ranked No.3 in the world, led by as much as 14 points in the first half, but the home team poured on the pressure in the second half, surging back into the game and closing the gap to just two points at the end of the third quarter, then drawing level with the opening score of the fourth.

Scoring was at a minimum as the pressure rose and the Brazilians took a three-point lead with six minutes to go before the Opals hit back, finally regaining the lead through George.

The Opals travelled to Brazil with an understrength squad minus 2022 World Cup bronze medallists Steph Talbot, Kristy Wallace and Darcee Garbin.

That bronze medal win at the home World Cup came after a disastrous 2021 Tokyo Olympics where they finished eighth, putting the pressure on coach Sandy Brondello to get her team to bounce back in Paris.

The Australians will next face Germany, ranked 25th in the world, and Serbia, who are 10th, needing to win both games in the crucial Olympic qualifying tournament.

The Opals must finish in the top three in their four-nation pool to qualify for the Paris Games.


Sunday, February 11, Opals v Germany from 7am (AEDT)

Monday, February 12, Opals v Serbia from 7am (AEDT)