The Opals found life difficult in their first encounter of the 2022 FIBA Women's World Cup against France. (Image: @BasketballAus - Twitter)

For the first time in 28 years, Australia is hosting the FIBA Women’s World Cup and as the Opals took to the court, all eyes were on Australian Lauren Jackson in her return to international basketball.

Jackson started the game on the bench, but as the game kicked off the 9,291 fans who filled the arena were treated early to a shooting clinic from Bec Allen. Allen opened the scoring for the game and the Opals with a beautiful three-point shot and for the Blues, it was looking like the Opals were going to be hard to beat.

As the game began to settle, it was apparent that the French were going to pressure Australia and rattle it in the offence. The pressure from the French came across the whole court, but when the Opals had the ball in hand the French were causing doubt in the Opals’ minds.

Shooting accuracy began to come troublesome for the Opals as the pressure continued from the Blues. Australia ended the game, shooting just 26 per cent from the field.

With 4:54 left in the first term the moment that everyone was waiting for finally happened and Lauren Jackson checked into the game marking her return to international basketball.

The crowd roared as she took the court and in true Jackson style, she wasted no time in making an impact at both ends of the court. Defensively she forced two turnovers getting the Opals vital possessions of the ball when France had the opportunity to take advantage of the momentum.

Not sticking to one end of the court, Jackson would hit the scoreboard with a long-range three that raised the roof off the arena. The three-point shot was Jackson’s first points of the competition and saw her with another career milestone scoring 600 points at the international level.

France went into the game as underdogs battling the home crowd and losing Marine Johannes to injury just before the start of the tournament. Even with the unsettled start to the competition, France was unfazed and took the game head-on, delivering Australia with their first loss in the preliminary group stage since 1994.

As the game went on France’s Gabby Williams inserted herself into the game and proved to be the game-winner. Williams was a headache for the Opals from the early minutes of the game, with Australian coach Sandy Brondello struggling to find someone who could match Williams and slow her down.

At times this job was left to Steph Talbot, but Williams continued to find space and would end the game with 23 points, shooting 66 per cent from the field. France was also carried by Marine Fauthoux who carried the ball well and ran the French plays well to keep their offence rolling.

The Australian team is full of strong shooters, but the only star that shone was Bec Allen who was Australia’s only double-digit scorer ending on 16 points.

Allen and her ability to shoot from long range but also drive the ball is going to be an important piece in the Opals’ success in the tournament, but she will also need support from others for the Opals to push deep into the tournament.

Sami Whitcomb who was one of the in-form shooters in the WNBL last season struggled while Ezi Magbegor struggled offensively as well.

The shining light of the game for the Opals was the performance of veteran Mariana Tolo, who upon entering the game lit the team and the crowd up. Tolo displayed the spirit of the Opals that we hear about so often and was giving her all to swing the game’s momentum to the Opals’ favour.

Tolo impacted the scoreboard and also went after her rebounds, making the most of her limited time on the floor.

The game was an arm wrestle until the final term when France began to run over the top of Australia. The pressure from the Blues didn’t stop and the Opals continued to struggle with it. The Opals were unable to get their offence going and overcome the pressure.

France would go on a seven to zero point run in the final term to take out the game with a 13-point win.

The Opals will face Mali on Friday, September 23. The game will start at 8:30 pm.

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