Opals aim to secure spot in Basketball World Cup with win over Tall Ferns
The Tall Ferns and Opals meet again in Canberra tomorrow (photosport)
By David Barbeler
Just like riding a bike - with training wheels.
That's basketball superstar Lauren Jackson's description of her first game in over 10 months when the Opals downed New Zealand 66-50 in Auckland on Wednesday.
The Opals have a 16 point buffer to secure a berth in next year's world championships in Turkey when they host the Tall Ferns in the return leg of the Oceania Championship at the AIS Arena in Canberra on Sunday.
The stakes aren't as high in the following men's clash between the Boomers and Tall Blacks as both teams have already qualified for their world championships in Spain.
While Jackson played down her return to the court following last year's season ending hamstring injury, the classy centre's stats speak for themselves.
She was a dominant presence with 22 points and nine rebounds on Wednesday night, opening her tally with a casual three-pointer.
"I feel great physically. I haven't felt this pain free in so long," the four-time Olympian said.
"I am well aware that I have to keep working on my fitness, but that will come.
"I was so happy I got through it, got it done and to be able to share it with these girls was a lot of fun."
The star of the men's match will be San Antonio Spurs reserve point guard Patty Mills.
The 25-year-old has emerged as a leader of the Boomers since the retirement of captain Matt Nielsen last year.
He'll be looking to back up a game-high 20 point performance in the Boomers' come-from-behind 70-59 win over New Zealand on Wednesday.
Mills said he was enjoying taking what he'd learned from star Spurs players Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker, and sharing it with young Boomers talents Ben Simmons and Dante Exum to help develop the squad ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympics.
"This is another opportunity for me as a player to take what I've learnt from the NBA and the San Antonio Spurs and put it into work here," Mills said.
"It's also a chance to teach these guys what I've learnt and the experiences I've been through."