Opals in recovery mode ahead of Belgium quarterfinal

On the road to the medal games, sleep, massage and ice baths will be the key ingredients for the Australian Opals.

After five matches in seven days, the Opals are in around-the-clock recovery mode ahead of Thursday night's FIBA Women's World Cup quarter final against Belgium.

Wednesday delivered a rare off day for the tournament, after the Opals secured top spot in Group B with a win over Japan on Tuesday night. As expected, no on-court activities were scheduled after back-to-back-to-back games to end the pool phase.

"We leave it up to the individual, they know what they want. Bec (Allen) and (Anneli) Maley shot on court lightly this morning and some of them just did recovery and treatment," head coach Sandy Brondello told ESPN.

"Now we'll have one of our preparation team meetings (Wednesday afternoon) before we have another one tomorrow. It's just resting up, mentally, physically and then focus on Belgium. There's nothing on the court we're doing, just recovery."

Allen told ESPN on Tuesday night that she plans on attempting a return to the floor for the matchup with Belgium, after a brutal collision against Serbia on Sunday. Scans have since cleared the star wing of structural damage, with Brondello confirming the concern is around pain and functional movement rather than further injuring her left rib area.

"No concern with that," Brondello said. "It's just a pain thing and she's getting better and better. It's what she can tolerate but she can't get any worse."

The Opals do have recent history with Belgium, having met in a pre-tournament warm up game as well as at the Tokyo Olympics, where Belgian star Emma Meesseman poured in 32 points on 14-for-22 from the floor. Meesseman has been ruled out of the tournament after suffering a calf injury in the group phase.

"It just gives you a feel for playing against them. Those games certainly help but it's a new ball game, we've just got to come ready to play and they can be very dangerous," Brondello said. "Emma Meesseman is out but they've got other very capable players, so we have to make sure that we're locked in and ready to play 40 minutes and handle whatever pressure they are throwing at us."

A continued talking point will be the starting lineup, with Brondello showing a willingness to mix and match on any given night, with Ezi Magbegor, Marianna Tolo and Cayla George all shuffling positions thus far.

"The changing of the line-up, we played Japan, they're very athletic and small and we wanted to switch a lot," she said. "Ezi is obviously quite athletic, so it was more matchups driven. Will we stay with that? Possibly.

"We'll see and evaluate that, but I thought Cayla really did a good job coming off the bench, she was a key player for us tonight."

Opals legend Lauren Jackson is available to play more if required, with her impact significant in short bursts. Despite totalling just 42 minutes through five games, Jackson's 14 free-throw attempts trail only Magbegor and Tolo, while her six three-point makes are tied for second behind Sami Whitcomb.

"This wasn't a game for Lauren against Japan. We put her in, and she gave us a three as she always does every game," Brondello said. "She could go, probably not big minutes but she could go, she's ready. She's been a great influence on this team whether she's playing or on the bench."

On the opposite end of the load management scale, Steph Talbot leads the team with 142 minutes on court, with the regular late 8:30pm tip time an added challenge for recovery.

"With the late games it's the sleep that's big for me. I'm getting to sleep very late, 2:30am, 3:00am but naps have been a huge part of the preparation," Talbot told ESPN.

The Seattle Storm star was huge in the win over Japan, continuing a big tournament where she leads the team in rebounds (6.4) and assists (4.4) per game.

Postgame, Talbot spoke to a unique situation pregame, where Australian players, officials and fans, found themselves cheering for Serbia in the earlier game against France. The Serbian win allowed Australia to claim top spot in Group B, putting them in a position to potentially reach a gold medal game before crossing paths with the powerhouse USA. It's been an impressive turnaround for Australia, winning four straight games after a disappointing opening night loss to France.

"I never thought I'd come across the day where I was cheering for Serbia, but we definitely were, and they did us a solid," Talbot laughed.

"It was a unique situation trying to watch their game while trying to stay focused. There's a huge difference between finishing first and second to third and fourth. We did not want to cross the U.S. in the quarters, we did that in Tokyo and that was a bit of motivation. The first game is not how we want to play and not how we want to be seen so it was big for us to turn that around."

Watch every Opals game at the FIBA Women's World Cup LIVE on ESPN.