Opals fall to France in World Cup opener

·3-min read

Lauren Jackson's return could not prevent the Opals from losing 70-57 to Olympic bronze medallists France in their first game of the FIBA Women's World Cup.

Thursday night's loss at Sydney's Qudos Bank Arena was Australia's first to France from six World Cup meetings and broke a 19-game winning streak in the qualifying round of the World Cup dating back to 1994.

The loss leaves the Opals with work to do to progress from Group B, the more competitive of the two World Cup pools.

Australia's most decorated female basketballer, 41-year-old Jackson made a cameo from the bench in her first competitive game for the Opals since announcing her international retirement in 2013.

She made her presence felt in defence early on, but had her role reduced in the second half when fellow centre Marianna Tolo began to take the contest on and command more minutes.

Jackson's first and only points of the game came from deep with a minute to play in the first quarter and restored Australia's lead.

The three-pointer made Jackson only the third woman to score 600 points at World Cups.

After sitting out the third quarter, Jackson came on and attempted to settle her side's nerves in the final four minutes but the Opals could not reel the French in after they broke away in the second half.

"We're obviously disappointed," Opals coach Sandy Brondello said.

"It's not the way we wanted to start off.

"(France) played very physically. They took us out of a lot of the stuff that we wanted to do and we didn't respond in the right way."

The final score perhaps did not do justice to a tight contest; the lead changed seven times in the first half.

Opening night nerves struck both sides but Bec Allen stood up early for the Opals and had 11 points to her name by the half.

France brought the better defensive pressure, pouncing on Australia's lapses to score more prolifically from turnovers and pick and roll through the paint for easy points.

The Opals used size to their advantage and preferred to score from rebounds but were left to rue some wayward shooting.

The French lifted their intensity after halftime but Tolo kept the Opals in the fight and denied France as they looked to stretch out to a more comfortable lead in the third quarter.

But led by former first-round WNBA draft pick Gabby Williams, France held their lead through the second half by shooting more accurately and muscling up in defence.

"We shot the ball really poorly," Brondello said.

"You can't shoot at 26 per cent (from the field) and expect to win."

The Opals must finish in the top four of their six-team pool to advance to the next phase of the tournament.

"We're going to have to bounce back, that's how the tournament style is," Allen said.

"We've got Mali tomorrow and it's going to be a whole different ball game to what we experienced today."

Tournament favourites USA beat Belgium 87-72 in Group A, before Canada's 67-60 defeat of a fast-finishing Serbia boosted their chances of making it through the competitive Group B.

After going through their first World Cup winless, Puerto Rico upset Bosnia & Herzegovina 82-58 and surpassed their previous tournament high-score of 62 points by three-quarter time.

China posted the most dominant performance of the day with a 107-44 thrashing that extended South Korea's World Cup losing streak to 10 games.