The Opals World Cup campaign is well underway, securing mixed results across the first two nights of the tournament as they eye their second World Cup title.
A sell-out crowd showed up for the Opals opening match against France and the atmosphere was electric, an especially loud roar echoed throughout the stadium the moment Lauren Jackson took to the floor, her return no doubt the reason behind such a big crowd.
Unfortunately, the Opals failed to secure a win to open their campaign, going down to France by 13, in a disappointing game that left fans wondering whether this tournament would hold a similar fate to last year's Olympics. The Opals lacked intensity and shot poorly; 26 percent from the field will never win you a game. France, on the other hand shot at 48 percent, led by Gabby Williams who had 23 points.
It wasn't all bad, however. A highlight was seeing Jackson score her 600th career point at a World Cup in a three pointer that brought deafening cheers from all around the stadium.
A key point to note is the fact that Bec Allen top scored with 16 points. This shouldn't be surprising but having seen her struggle last year in Tokyo, it was exciting to see her back in form. She was the only Opal showing the aggression necessary to score and although it was great to see, she will need some assistance from her teammates if they are to have a chance of winning at this tournament.
After hearing the news of Marine Johannes' injury and knowing France would be down one of their best players, it was expected that Australia would capitalise on this. However, the players looked hesitant, they lacked aggression, and they threw the ball away from over passing it and forcing plays. They didn't crash the boards offensively and with so many missed shots, this prevented them from staying in the game with France.
It was obvious that some changes needed to be made and perhaps the loss to France was what they needed to be kicked into gear. Facing Mali in their second game, they were the clear favourites, but after the first game's performance nothing could be promised.
Mali came out firing at the beginning of the game and the stadium held their breath. The Opals, however, remained calm and showed poise in their game - something that was missing the previous night. Finally, the ball started going through the ring and some horn action proved deadly, with the bigs rolling to the basket and finishing every time. As the game progressed the Opals went from strength to strength, if they weren't finishing inside then they were knocking it down from deep with exceptional ball movement getting them great looks.
Even though Mali is not a strong outfit and an unlikely threat, it was promising to see the Opals show such improvement. Every player scored and it was more evenly spread, showing the real depth of the team, something that is crucial if the Opals are to have a real chance.
The game also saw the injection of Anneli Maley for the first time, she immediately crashed the boards and won some unlikely contests, or at least caused some jump balls. Sara Blicavs was also a 'glass cleaner' and it made a real difference to see both these players and the girls make the effort to rebound on the offensive end.
The Opals were up and about after their win and you could see a shift in attitude, they were brimming with confidence and belief, something they lacked in their first game, potentially the pressure having gotten to them.
Moving forward they need to continue with this offensive aggression and lift the intensity again on defence to match with the stronger teams. Every player needs to be confident when they step on court and back themselves, as the depth of this Opals team is their true strength. They need to keep winning and by the biggest margin that they can, as there is a chance that there will be a tie for the final standings and both head-to-head and game points will determine whether they proceed.