Australia, New Zealand win opening matches
BEIJING (AP) WNBA star Lauren Jackson led medal favorite Australia with 18 points and 10 rebounds as the Opals opened their Beijing Olympics campaign with an 83-64 win over Belarus on Saturday.
Australia has lost the last two Olympic finals to the United States but comes into the 2008 Beijing Games as world champions. A close 71-67 loss to the Americans in the FIBA Diamond Ball tournament in Hainang last week - the first match between the teams since the Athens 2004 final - highlighted how close the competition could be in Beijing.
After shooting just 38 percent in the first half, Jackson lifted the Australians in the third quarter with seven unanswered points.
The Opals were tentative in the opening stages, but built a 19-12 lead at quarter time and expanded that to 44-28 at the half.
"Our girls were challenged by the fact we have never played Belarus," Australia coach Jan Stirling said. "For us it was a significant game, and I think our recent loss in the Diamond Ball against the USA helped prepare us for today.
"We're just chipping away at a number of things - we've got quite a few things to work on, but I thought we executed pretty well."
In other matches, China held off Spain 67-64, Beon Yeon-ha and Choi You-nah each scored 19 points to help South Korea beat Brazil 68-62 in overtime and New Zealand edged Mali 76-72.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was among the crowd at the Olympic Basketball Stadium, which has a capacity of 18,000, for the tournament's opening match.
Suzy Batkovic, who had 14 points and 12 rebounds, said Australia's match against the first-time Olympian Belorussians helped clear "my jitterbugs."
"We have so much more to give. Our chances are extremely high at these Olympics - we've come here to take home gold," she said.
In the following match, Angela Marino scored 19 points and Kate McMeeken-Ruscoe hit two late 3-pointers to help New Zealand over Mali.
Bian Lan had 15 points and 12 rebounds for China, with captain Miao Lijie and Chen Nana adding 12 points apiece. The Chinese dominated until the last quarter, holding 13-point margins at stages of the second and third quarters until Spain came back, led by Alba Torrens with 18 points.
China coach Tom Maher said it was a good preparation for Monday's match against the United States.
"For naked physical talent they're clearly the best team. they're quicker, stronger and they run great," Maher said of the Americans. "There will be no pressure when playing the USA - they're the only team that (has something to) lose."
The United States was playing the Czech Republic and Russia was against Latvia in later matches.
After overcoming a six-point deficit in the last 2:15 of regulation, South Korea went on a 11-2 run to start the extra period and never looked back. Brazil had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation, but Micaela Jacinto missed a 15-footer from the corner that bounced off the rim twice before falling out.