SOME inspirational words from Australian basketball legend Andrew Gaze have given Newcastle’s Jenni Screen belief that the Opals can produce one of the all-time Olympic upsets in Thursday’s semi-final against the United States in London.
Australia, beaten by the US in the past three Olympic finals, qualified to meet their old nemesis by eliminating China 75-60 in the quarter-finals on Tuesday.
The US will be unbackable favourites to win, which would leave the Aussies to battle it out for a bronze medal.
But Screen said the Americans were not invincible.
‘‘Never say never,’’ she said.
‘‘Andrew Gaze said to our group before the tournament started that the Olympics is an opportunity for ordinary people to do extraordinary things.
‘‘We’re just 12 ordinary girls, with four coaches, that have the opportunity to do something special.
‘‘We have 40 minutes ... let’s be extraordinary, hey.’’
Screen’s fellow Novocastrian Suzy Batkovic was equally positive about the challenge ahead.
‘‘We actually haven’t ever beaten them, but we’ve got to start somewhere,’’ Batkovic said.
‘‘It’s time for a change, so hopefully we can get it done.’’
Asked if Thursday was payback time for the defeats she endured in Athens and Beijing, Batkovic smiled and replied: ‘‘Hopefully.’’
Batkovic said it felt strange to be playing the US without a gold medal at stake.
‘‘It is a bit weird, definitely ... but it is what it is,’’ she said. ‘‘We can’t look at it and go, ‘What if we didn’t lose to France?’
‘‘You can’t think like that.
‘‘We’ve finished with China. Now the next scalp is America and we move on to bigger things.’’
Batkovic, 31, was unequivocal about what Australia would need to do to spring a remarkable upset.
‘‘Defence,’’ she said.
‘‘We’ve got to get stops, obviously.
‘‘They’re incredible athletes and for us it’s going to really be about the defensive end and setting good screens and things like that.’’
Screen said Australia had great respect for the US but felt coach Carrie Graf would come up with a game plan to nullify the opposition.
‘‘They’re athletic, they can jump, they play like men,’’ she said.
‘‘But we’ve just got to outsmart them.’’
Screen and Batkovic, who were both pondering retirement a year ago, again were key figures in the win against China.
Screen played 18:54minutes, contributing four points and three rebounds.
Batkovic was Australia’s leading rebounder with a game-high nine and scored 10 points in her 20:39minutes of court time.
‘‘I feel like I missed about a thousand lay-ups,’’ she said with a laugh.
‘‘I don’t know what happened there.
‘‘It was just one of those days but I think tomorrow I’ll be practising my lay-ups. I don’t think it was our best game.
‘‘I still don’t believe you’ve seen the best of the Opals.’’