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Opals side selected to take on Kiwis
By Patrick Caruana
16:06 AEST Tue Aug 25 2009
Carrie Graf
Opals coach Carrie Graf believes her side can beat New Zealand despite lacking WNBA star power.

Australian women's basketball coach Carrie Graf is confident of beating New Zealand next week, despite her Opals squad lacking WNBA stars Lauren Jackson and Penny Taylor.

The Opals will travel to Wellington on Thursday for the first game of the Oceania Championship, with the return rubber in Canberra on September 2.

The winner of the series will directly qualify for the 2010 FIBA world championship in the Czech Republic while the loser will miss out, with no second chance.

While the 12-member Opals side lacks its WNBA stars, who are unavailable through club commitments, Graf says she is confident of a strong showing.

"We knew that we'd be in this series without them, so most of the Opals' preparation, in fact all of it, has been without them this year," Graf told AAP.

"Obviously, you'd like to have your superstar talent, but that's not the landscape of Australian women's basketball."

The Opals will regain star point guards Sam Richards and Alicia Poto.

Poto has recovered from a hamstring injury, while Richards received clearance from her Czech side to take part.

The squad includes three Beijing silver medallists - forward Rohanee Cox and centres Emma Randall and Hollie Grima.

The Opals have just come off a 2-1 series victory over China, in which Cox and guard Natalie Hurst, in her first year with the Opals, starred.

Graf said the pressure of being the reigning world champions would not prove too great on the squad.

"There's only I think two athletes, or three athletes that were on that World Championship team," she said.

"I think pressure is something you put on yourself."

Graf said while she will field a young side, it is not light on for experience, with five squad members playing club basketball in Europe.

"This is a young group of emerging Opals that know this is an important part of the future of Australian women's basketball," she said.

"A lot of them have had a lot of international experience, nearly every player has been a part of the Australian system, so they've been on tour with the AIS or with the Australian junior team."

Opals squad: Jessica Bibby, Elizabeth Cambage, Rohanee Cox, Jessica Foley, Hollie Grima, Natalie Hurst, Elyse Penaluna, Alicia Poto, Emma Randall, Samantha Richards, Marianna Tolo, Carly Wilson.