Win's a win for nervous Opals
Monday, 30 July 2012
Categories: Olympics - Olympics
Nervous Aussies win with comfortable margin, but need to sharpen now ice-breaker is out of the way
By LORISSE DART
IT wasn’t pretty, but at least the Australian basketball team’s first, nervous game is out of the way. And it was a win.
The Opals were the first to admit they need to play much better than the scrappy game that emerged out of their Olympic opener against Great Britain — and that improvement needs to start Monday night (AEST) against world No.8 and late-qualifier France.
The Tom Maher-coached Great Britain is a dramatically improved team under the Aussie mentor’s tutelage and wasn't disgraced, while France will be no pushover for the world No.2 Opals, considered a likely gold-medal match contender.
But there were good signs for the Opals in the 74-58 victory: 10 of 12 players notched double-figure minutes and scored, and there was a fire in the eyes of skipper Lauren Jackson – albeit very tired eyes.
After an emotionally draining week, Jackson hit a game-high 18 points in 21 minutes of court time, saying she was relieved the first hit-out was out of the way and that she was looking forward to some sleep and mental downtime.
Jackson, of course, kept the news that she was the Australian team flag bearer a secret for almost a week, riding an emotional roller-coaster through the announcement, the media frenzy, the long and late night of the Opening Ceremony and the nerves of the first game.
“That was the greatest honour of my life,” Jackson said of her prestigious flag-carrying duties.
“It was just a whirlwind of emotions, then seeing my mum and dad the next day. I am not a crier, I am a tough woman ... but the smallest things were just making me cry, so I think along with the happiness and joy, all the emotions were unbelievable."
While Jackson will surely feel relief now she can purely focus on leading the Opals through their pool games, coach Carrie Graf will be more relieved. Jackson said she was “beat” after the game.
“She was trying out there but I think she had lead legs,” Graf said.
"I think she led from the front early in terms of doing the thing she does well and that is shoot for three (points).
“Obviously her getting in foul trouble never helps but I think she was doing her best to play on an empty tank."
Jackson copped a technical foul along with British forward Julie Page in the last quarter when the two tangled on the paint. Not surprisingly, the Australian was the focus of some heavy defence from the Brits, and when Page got in the face of one of the world’s greatest players, Jackson responded with a few words of advice.
Page obviously hadn’t been warned that if you poke mamma bear for too long, she’s gunna get angry – especially after she’s had one of the most emotional weeks of her international basketball career.
But it was a harmless incident and the perfect reminder of the fierce spirit that fuels Jackson.
Rising star Liz Cambage got in early foul trouble in her debut Olympic game, as did fellow debutant Jenna O'Hea, and played limited time. The 20-year-old said nerves took a hold and she felt physically ill before the tip-off.
“Bit of ants in the pants! It was the ref’s first game and my first game and we are all getting to know each other,” Cambage joked.
The Opals tip off against France at 11.30pm Monday (AEST).
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