Penny Taylor scored 18 of her 20 points in the first half, as Australia built a double-digit lead en route to a 90-57 win over Cuba in the opening game of the FIBA World Championships in Istanbul Saturday.
After Cuba took a 3-0 lead from free throws in the opening minute and a half, Australia would record 22 unanswered, Taylor scoring 11 of the team’s first 14.
For Taylor, it was an anxious return,as the 2006 FIBA World Championship MVP missed the 2012 London Olympics with an injury after two previous silver medals.
“I miss representing my country, and I’m happy to be back representing this team,” said Taylor, the Phoenix Mercury guard. “We have a lot of confidence in each other and are playing as a team.”
Cuba, which was the champion of last year’s FIBA Americas Tournament in Mexico, was held without a field goal until Yamara Amargo executed a three with 45 seconds left in the first. Australia led 23-6 after one, with Taylor already scoring 11.
The Cubans made a comeback in the second, coming within 11, on a slew of threes from Amargo, Arlenys Romero and Arlety Povea. Taylor’s 18th point of the half gave the Opals a 34-16 advantage, and they went to the break up 45-31.
“We came out focused, but we knew they would come back, as they did in the second quarter,” Taylor said, “no matter how good you start, it’s how you finish. They (Cuba) came out confident, and we took that away, but you saw in the second quarter what they can do.”
Australia was able to capitalize on a 23-7 third quarter and take an insurmountable 30-point lead, although Amargo hit back-to-back threes in the latter stages, as she would conclude 5-of-9 from downtown with 19 points.
Rachel Jarry added 13 points and six rebounds, Belinda Snell contributed 11 points (3-of-4 on threes) and six boards, and 6-foot-4 Cayla Francis scored 11 with three blocks for Australia. Leilani Mitchell dished a game-high eight assists.
“We were pretty solid,” said starting guard Erin Phillips, who also plays in Phoenix and missed the London Games. “When I practice with the team, we try to be aggressive on defense. We need that from Penny, people to step up the scoring, now that we don’t have Liz Cambage, she’s still very talented.”
Marlen Cepeda and Clenia Noblet of Cuba tied for the game-high with seven rebounds.
On Sunday, the tournament continues, with Australia playing Korea and Cuba versus Belarus in Group C.
Meanwhile, in Group B at Ankara, Canada was able to pull away from Mozambique, 69-54, after a slow start of which it led 35-32. Rute Muianga of Mozambique led all players with 14 points, and Kim Gaucher scored 11 with seven rebounds for the Canadians.