Opals overcome Cambage exit to take gold
Liz Cambage's ejection ensured there was no short of drama, but the Opals still managed to flex their sizeable commonwealth muscle to claim Gold Coast Games basketball gold.
Australia trounced England 99-55 in the women's gold medal game on Saturday night, the effort all the more meritorious considering they played the majority of the game without their superstar centre.
Cambage - the most dominant player throughout the tournament - was ejected three minutes into the second quarter for arguing with the referee.
She had earlier been charged with an unsportsmanlike foul for an elbow to the back of the head of Azania Stewart, hence the automatic ejection.
But if England thought that would open the door to the biggest of Games upsets, they were sorely mistaken.
Australia's resolve seemed to strengthen off the back of Cambage being tossed; Kelsey Griffin and Cayla George filling the scoring void - both finishing with a game-high 16 points.
Cambage's emotions were obvious as tears flowed during the medal presentation.
"I feel for her. Her heart's broken," coach Sandy Brondello said.
"We learn from our experiences, more so the negative ones. She's a great player, she's had a fantastic tournament."
"Liz's an emotional player. Sometime you're biggest strength is your biggest weakness.
"In those situations she's got to control it. She's going to the foul line, we had the ball and she finally got a call made in her way. She'll learn from it."
Not that Cambage's ejection was a complete negative.
While she was on her way to having another big game - with 10 points on 5-5 shooting as Australia led 30-16 - Brondello also got to see how her side would react to being without their best player in a big game.
She could not have been more impressed.
Every player got on the scoresheet and the defensive intensity went to a whole new level, as the Opals ensured retiring skipper Belinda Snell - the only returnee from Australia's 2006 Games triumph - went out a winner.
Snell's experience just after Cambage's exit was instrumental - back-to-back three-pointers helping the Opals regain composure as they went to the main break leading 49-31.
"It showed the character of the team. Maybe it made us a better team tonight," Brondello said.
"You don't know, teams can fall apart when their best player goes out - how do they react to that.
"We want Liz on the floor, but (it's good) knowing that we can play tough basketball at both ends of the floor, and we can have that success (without her)."
For Snell, it was the perfect end to an international career which started playing alongside Brondello at the 2004 Olympics.
"Finishing up with a Commonwealth Games gold on home soil, it's fantastic, I'm just so appreciative of the opportunity," she said.