Opals 84 Tall Ferns 66
Australian Opals v New Zealand Tall Ferns
Australian Opals player Natalie Hurst during the game at the AIS Arena. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
Just a few months ago, Lauren Jackson feared she might never play basketball again.
So it is no surprise emotions got the best of her after she guided the Australian Opals to a win against New Zealand at AIS Arena on Sunday.
The star centre needed just over two minutes to show the Canberra Capitals what they have missed out on after talks to sign her for the upcoming Women’s National Basketball League season broke down.
She drained the first seven points of the game, finishing with a team-high 21 to seal a 2-0 Oceania Championships series win.
It was a memorable return to Canberra for Jackson after she failed to play a single game for the Capitals last season because of a chronic hamstring injury.
She was nailed to Canberra’s bench in the most frustrating period of her career. On Sunday, she was the main act.
‘‘I got a bit teary on the bus because, in January, I didn’t know if I would be playing again,’’ Jackson said.
‘‘To be honest, I couldn’t imagine a better way to finish the tournament than playing here and it’s packed out ... It’s unbelievable for an Opals game.
‘‘Since I’ve been playing with the national team, this [type of crowd] for a qualifier never happens ... I’m just so proud to be a Capital.’’
Jackson won’t play for the Capitals again until 2014-15, after the club failed to meet a final deadline to rework her contract to play in the coming campaign.
New Opals coach Brendan Joyce has eased the 32-year-old slowly back on court the past few weeks.
Still far from full fitness, Jackson’s performance proved she will be ready to lead the Opals to World Cup redemption in Turkey next year.
Jackson credited the new coach with instilling the confidence in her that she could still dominate a game.
The good news is that Jackson is still far from her best, despite admitting she was surprised at her immediate impact.
‘‘If I had any other coach, I don’t know if I’d have that confidence these last two games,’’ Jackson said.
‘‘I didn’t think I’d be scoring, I didn’t think I’d be doing anything but running between three-point lines, to be honest.
‘‘Brendan’s been that positive influence on me and giving me the confidence I needed.’’
Spearheaded by Antonia Edmondson (26 points) and Micaela Cocks (25 points, nine rebounds, four assists), the Tall Ferns threatened a boilover, leading 34-26 late in the second term.
But the Opals scored the final 11points of the first half, before putting the foot on the throat with a 27-14 third quarter.
Belinda Snell (17 points, four assists) was also outstanding for the Opals.
It certainly wasn't just the Lauren Jackson show, and Joyce was pleased with the contributions from his bench.
''What I like was the contributions tonight. I want the girls to play with confidence and take open shots, that’s how I want them to play.
''It didn’t happen in the first half but they stuck at it.''
AUSTRALIAN OPALS 84 (Lauren Jackson 21, Belinda Snell 17) bt NEW ZEALAND TALL FERNS 66 (Antonia Edmondson 26, Micaela Cocks 25) at AIS Arena on Sunday.