The Seven Consulting Opals fell to a sharp-shooting French side 70-57 in front of a vocal home crowd.
The French women’s basketball team spoiled the Australian Opals homecoming in a solid display, shooting 46% from the field to win their opening game of the tournament.
Gabby Williams led all scorers with 23 points, three rebounds and two assists, whilst Bec Allen led the Australians with 16 points, four rebounds and one assist. Both sides had eight players on the scoreboard, spreading the scoring duties, with Marine Fauthoux leading all teams with six assists.
Allen opened the scoring for Australia to a massive cheer from the home crowd, but it was a seesawing battle in the first quarter, with the score changing five times.
After receiving a loud welcome during player introductions, the stadium erupted when Lauren Jackson scored her first points of the game five minutes into the first quarter. The three-pointer saw Jackson become only the third player in World Cup history to net 600 points.
Strong defence from the Australians limited France’s opportunities, the French relying on Gabby Williams’ sharp-shooting, scoring 12 of France’s first 18 points.
The second quarter was again a back-and-forth battle between both teams, with the lead changing seven more times, as the intensity of the game increased. France took a one-point advantage at the halftime break.
Magbegor opened the Opals’ second half as the game continued as a physical battle between both teams. It remained a close game until the end of the quarter, with the Opals’ Sami Whitcomb sinking a last-second reverse layup to cut the lead to 5 points.
The crowd cheered loudly at the start of the fourth quarter in an effort to lift the Opals for the final ten minutes, but France’s Marine Fauthoux quietened the Australian fans with the opening basket of the term. The difference came down to the shooting percentage from both sides, with Australia, shooting only 26% from the field against 46% from the French side resulting in a 13-point win for France.
Opals’ coach Sandy Brondello wasn’t pleased with the result but says she’s confident the group will bounce back.
“Obviously (I’m) disappointed, it’s not the way that we wanted to start off the Worlds, but credit to France, I thought they really played very physical,” Brondello said. “They took us out of a lot of the stuff that we wanted to do and we did not respond in the right way. I didn’t think we were aggressive enough at the start. They took us out offensively.”
“It is disappointing for us not to get the first win, but we are going to bounce back to the next. It will be a different ball game than what we experienced today.”
The French top scorer, Williams, knew it would be a tough win against the Australians on their home court but says the team came in prepared.
“Knowing it was going to be a hard game, the girls came in like they were just going to give it their all,” said Williams. “Having Lauren Jackson back in the team and being the first game and the fans watching their first Australian game, we knew that it was against us so we just played to have fun and stick together.”
“I have seen what she (Lauren Jackson) had done with Seattle Storm and I can only imagine what she must mean to Australia. They were hyped for her every move and the crowd is here to salute her career and how she has grown women’s basketball, not only in Australia but the US, in fact all over the world.”