Lauren Jackson saved the best game of her Opals return for last, featuring Australia clinching World Cup bronze with a 95-65 loss to Canada at Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney.
Jackson confirmed just hours before the whistleblower that her return from the Opals would end after the World Cup, in which she played all eight games for Australia after a nine-year absence from the national team.
After a second-half sack that helped her finish with 30 points – the second-best tally for anyone in a single game at this World Cup – Jackson left Australian fans wondering if she might reconsider retirement.
Coach Sandy Brondello had hinted that the Australian bench would play a big part in the bronze medal tie, which came just 16 hours after their semi-final defeat.
But even the coach couldn’t have predicted just how instrumental her 41-year-old former teammate would be.
His first points, a jump shot, sparked an 8-0 Australian run that helped the home side undo Canada’s early dominance. Overall, Australia overcame the shooting issues that thwarted them in the tight semi-final loss to China.
Australia’s best World Cup player, Steph Talbot, was the chief architect as the home side maintained their lead in the second quarter.
Talbot had 11 points for the period, including a clutch three-pointer in the dying seconds, to go along with some trademark defensive efforts as the Aussies took an eight-point lead into the main substitution.
Canada’s Kia Nurse contributed nearly half of Canada’s points in the first half (19 of 43) with a versatile shooting display that made it easy to forget the World Cup had marked its comeback after a draw. 11 month old foot for ACL injury.
While Canada was still very present after half-time, Nurse left the field after two fouls in quick succession and Australia had to take advantage of his absence.
The majority of Australia’s top players were coming off big minutes in Friday night’s semi-final, so the Opals found a hero in their greatest ever player, who only made one appearance against China.
Jackson’s points in this tournament have come almost exclusively from beyond the arc. But in the third quarter she came to life in the paint and finished the third quarter with 13 points as Australia stretched to what was ultimately a winning lead.
Her seven rebounds and two steals were personal bests for the tournament and when she kept her form in the final quarter, the Aussies were home.
Jackson’s push coincided with a downturn in Nurse’s form; the Canadian failed to score after halftime and with their biggest striking weapon neutralized, Canada were never a threat to make a late comeback.
Jackson walked off the court to a standing ovation in the final three minutes as the greatest basketball career Australia has ever seen officially came to an end.