Basketball: Jackson shatters NZ hopes

By Kris Shannon

Natalie Hurst of Australia closes down  Micaela Cocks in last night's clash. Photo / Getty Images
Natalie Hurst of Australia closes down Micaela Cocks in last night's clash. Photo / Getty Images

The Tall Ferns will need a miracle to qualify for next year's Basketball World Cup after Australia demonstrated their dominance on the North Shore last night.

The odds were always against New Zealand in the opening game at the Fiba Oceania Championship, with their outmatched roster further hindered by an abridged preparation.

And the world No2 Opals illustrated just how wide the gap is between the two sides, running out 66-50 winners.

Australia were on paper several steps above the hosts - and that was before Lauren Jackson entered the equation. Despite being sidelined through injury for the past nine months, Jackson showed her undoubted quality and led all scorers with 22 points.

It could easily have been more had one of the world's best players ever stepped on the accelerator.

Jackson had a field day in the post, with her 1.96m frame providing an easy target for her teammates' passes, and her nine rebounds were also a game-high.

Her mere presence should prevent the Tall Ferns from turning the tables in game two in Canberra on Sunday.

That they will need a 17-point victory to secure the series seems a pipedream.

Jackson provided an early sign of what was to follow, taking advantage of New Zealand's seriously undersized interior to lay in the first points.

Jackson probably could have continued to post up and reap the rewards for the rest of the game, but she also showed her touch from range in draining the game's first three-pointer.

The three-time WNBA most valuable player scored seven of Australia's first nine points as they opened up an early buffer and it was no coincidence the Tall Ferns came back into the contest when she took a spell on the bench.

While New Zealand lacked size, their guards were more than the measure of the visitors' and co-captain Toni Edmondson particularly impressed in the opening half, even successfully driving on Jackson on a couple of occasions.

The Tall Ferns shot poorly - aside from Edmondson, who had 11 points at the half - but managed to stay within touch of their illustrious opponents, going to the major break 34-26 in arrears.

But the class of the Opals always threatened to shine through and that's just what happened in the first five minutes of the third.

A 15-2 run virtually killed off the contest, with the Tall Ferns not aiding their own cause by committing five turnovers to give Australia plenty of extra possession.

The final quarter was an exercise in damage limitation for New Zealand, minimising the final margin to give themselves hope on Sunday. But that hope will be real only if Jackson misses the flight.

Australia 66 (Jackson 22, Hurst 12, Tolo 8)

New Zealand 50 (Edmondson 18, Cocks 8, Craig 8) HT: 26-34.

- APNZ

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