One of sport’s greatest comebacks has come full circle with Lauren Jackson announcing the Opals bronze medal game today will be her last.
The 41-year-old, who produced an incredible return to the court in the FIBA Women’s World Cup in Sydney, can finish on a high and the podium if Australia defeat Canada at 1pm.
Jackson posted on social media: “It just dawned on me that this will be my last game ever in the green and gold and how lucky I am to have had this opportunity to represent Australia and also say goodbye, I didn’t get that chance all those years ago.”
A horror injury run forced the country’s greatest ever basketballer into retirement in 2016. Before the World Cup, her last appearance for the Opals was in 2013.
Can shattered Opals claim bronze redemption?
The Opals’ gold medal hopes are gone after they were beaten by China in a thrilling quarter-final, now they must pick themselves up for a bronze medal clash against Canada.
Here are five things Australia will need to do beat Canada.
Australia has been praised for the tough brand of basketball it’s brought to the tournament and it’s an attribute one impressed USA star spoke about on semi-final night.
Olympic gold medallist Jewell Loyd has played with and against Aussies in the WNBA and says the Opals will bring the heat against Canada.
“They’re physical, they’re tough and I feel like people aren’t talking about that enough,” she told News Corp. “Australia fight for every possession, every ball, they don’t back down. They’ve also been shooting the ball well.
“I’ve got two Australians (Ezi Magbegor and Steph Talbot) on my team at Seattle so I know their character, I know how they play.”
Australia’s brightest young star Ezi Magbegor had a slow start to the tournament but has flourished and produced some big moments in the Opals’ run to the finals.
She even showed some welcome aggression in the final pool game against Japan.
Against China on Friday night, it was big baskets, bigger blocks and almighty stops.
In a WNBA season with Seattle Storm, where the 23-year-old earned selection in the league’s all defensive second team, she showed she can take it up to the very best.
The final day of play can be Ezi’s stage to shine and lead Australia to a medal.
Strong starts have alluded the Opals at times during the tournament and a great first period will hold the home nation in good stead for a bronze medal.
It would establish early confidence and momentum in front of a passionate green-and-gold crowd and put the Canadians on the back foot just like the USA did in its barnstorming semi-final.
The USA had piled on 15 points before the Canadians found the net, setting up a commanding 27-7 quarter-time lead. In contrast, Australia scored 17 first-quarter points to China’s 13.
Nirra Fields was a force for Canada when the teams met last Monday with a game-high 17 points to go with six rebounds and three assists.
The experienced guard, who played under Australian coach Sandy Brondello at Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA, had a challenging night against the USA going 0/8 before scoring her first points of the final in the third quarter.
You can bet the Australian coaching staff will have how the Americans slowed Fields down on the scout.
Not many international players have enjoyed success in Australia like Kia Nurse, Canberra’s two-time championship player and the only import to ever win the WNBL MVP.
Regardless of the result of the bronze medal game, it’s been a remarkable tournament for the guard who returned from a year on the sidelines with an ACL injury in Sydney.
The Opals know she’s a game-changer and match winner and Nurse feels good being back on Aussie soil.
“This is a place where I’ve had a lot of success and I found a lot of confidence in my career playing here,” Nurse said.
Shutting down Nurse will tick a major box for Australia.
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Originally published as Women’s World Cup basketball: Australia vs Canada, bronze medal match