Australia lose to France in opener, Lauren Jackson returns, stats, highlights

Australia’s World Cup campaign suffered a major setback after a disappointing 70-57 loss to France in a forgettable opener.

The Opals were desperate to usher in a bold new era on home soil, but they couldn’t contain a powerful French side led by Seattle Storm star striker Gabby Williams.

Australia couldn’t deny Williams, who dominated the proceedings with her athleticism to finish with a game-high 23 points.

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Opals guard Bec Allen did his best to keep Australia in the game, dropping a team-high 16 points.

In the end, however, Australia lacked the firepower of France.

The Opals now need to win at least three of their last four games against Mali, Serbia, Canada and Japan to qualify for the quarter-finals.

It won’t be an easy task, especially with tough tests against Canada and Japan.

JACKSON BELONGS BUT DIDN’T DOMINATE

It’s no coincidence that Jackson looked comfortable without making a major impact in his first international game for the Opals since 2013.

Spies tell me Australia’s greatest basketball player was already training for a comeback last May, about 500 days away from the World Cup.

Jackson had also given up alcohol, so she was fully determined to don green and gold again.

That discipline and dedication showed in Lauren’s performance against France.

Sure, she’s not the Jackson of old and she only scored three points and added a rebound in 10 minutes on the floor, but she can still make an impact, even at 41 years old.

The tall Australian came into the game with five minutes left in the first quarter.

She missed her first three-point attempt, but she didn’t mind.

Jackson quickly moved on to a crucial flight.

It gave him the confidence to come back to the three-point line and empty a dagger, bringing the strong Sydney SuperDome crowd to their feet.

Watch for Jackson’s improvement as the tournament progresses.

She remained positive after the game, saying, “It’s a long tournament and you can bounce back.”

Jackson missed the entire third quarter as France extended their lead but said after the game she was “fine”.

“I made two mistakes, but I’m fine (physically),” she said.

“I just do what I’m told.”

ALLEN EXCELS, BUT NEEDS MORE HELP

The Opals looked sluggish in attack at some stages, but Allen provided the Australians with much-needed stability.

The gun guard went after the game in the first half with some aggressive shooting.

The New York Liberty WNBA star had 11 points in the first half to keep the Opals in the contest.

France led by one point at the quarter and half time, but the Australians refused to start again.

Allen continued to dominate in the second half, but she needs more help from the attacking side.

WILLIAMS PUT FEAR THROUGH OPALS

France were understaffed, but that didn’t matter as Williams put on a show.

The French have fielded a team of young lesser big names – guards Marine Johannes (thigh), Bria Hartley and center Sandrine Gruda.

Johannes, ranked best player in France, was particularly a loss for France.

It was feared the French might struggle without their star trio, but Williams was brilliant.

The Seattle Storm WNBA star did not play in France’s latest loss to Australia earlier in the week.

Opals captain Tess Madgen was suspicious of Williams before the game.

“Gabby didn’t play in our warm-up game so we’ll have to adapt to his athleticism,” Madgen said before the game.

The Opals skipper was in the money as Williams produced a better performance on the pitch for the Frenchman.

Australia must quickly regroup ahead of Friday’s must-see game against Mali from 8:30 p.m. (AEST).

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