BEIJING (Olympics) – World champions Australia enjoyed a flying start in their pursuit of a gold medal in China with an 83-64 mauling of Belarus in Saturday’s curtain-raiser for the women’s basketball tournament.
Lauren Jackson scored a game-high 18 points and pulled down 10 rebounds for the 2006 FIBA World Championship-winning Opals, who were congratulated by Australia Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on the edge of the court after the game.
Suzy Batkovic, who is back in the Australia side after three injury-plagued years, contributed 14 points and 12 rebounds.
“This was a significant game for us because we have never played against Belarus,” said Australia coach Jan Stirling.
“I want to congratulate Belarus because this was their first Olympic appearance and this is a learning curve for them. The loss against Team USA at the Diamond Ball prepared us for this game.
“We’re happy with our first game.”
The Aussies played in the Diamond Ball for Women in Haining and suffered a 71-67 defeat to the United States, the team deemed to be their biggest rivals for the gold medal.
Australia stormed out to a 14-6 lead midway through the first quarter and stretched the advantage to 44-28 by half-time.
Belarus, the surprise bronze-medal winners at last year’s EuroBasket Women in Italy, battled and reduced the deficit to 12 on five occasions in the second half, but Anatoly Buyalsky’s team got no closer.
“Even though this is our first game at an Olympics, I am not satisfied with our performance today,” Buyalsky said.
His team shot just 32% (22 of 69) from the field and turned the ball over 19 times.
“We are not in form,” Buyalsky said.
“We lack rhythm. This is due to the fact that we have some players who have struggled with injuries and they’re not in form.
“And we didn’t have a high spirit. I think we could have done much better.”
Penny Taylor, the most valuable player of the World Championship, had 12 points for the Aussies and veteran point guard Kristi Harrower, who is playing in her third Olympics, scored nine, dished out five assists and came up with three steals.
Australia out-rebounded Belarus 48-44.