Superstar Lauren Jackson lived up to all the pre-match hype in her return to the AIS Arena to lead the Canberra Transact Capitals to their third consecutive victory on Friday night.
After a three-year absence, Jackson wowed the packed crowed with a flurry of second half points as Canberra streaked to an 83-60 victory over the Dandenong Jayco Rangers.
With her parents Maree and Gary watching from the stands, Jackson scored 10 points in quick succession in the third quarter to keep the Rangers out of the contest.
It was Jackson’s first game in the capital since 2006 and her second since signing a $220,000 contract to return to the WNBL.
And she didn’t disappoint.
“I was very nervous before the game, the people here are just amazing,” Jackson said as she fought her way through hundreds of autograph hunters.
“The reception I got was just amazing, I never expected anything like that I’m just glad to be back here playing.
“I just feel great that my first home game is out of the way and now I can just get on with playing and going for the rest of the season.”
As the final buzzer sounded, Jackson was swamped by a sea of fans.
The majority of the 2180 crowd had packed in just to get a glimpse of the world’s best player.
By the end of the match she had amassed 25 points and eight rebounds to lead all scorers.
She showed no signs of being hampered by stress fractures in her back which kept her out of the game for four months.
Despite knowing the crowd wanted to see her at her best, Jackson said she felt no pressure to perform.
“I didn’t really feel an, it’s really difficult to feel pressure,” Jackson said.
“I just go out there and play.
“Especially in a team sport, it’s not one person that’s going to win the game.
“The Capitals have been winning championships without me and I’m just coming back in to help out.”
The crowd gave her a standing ovation before a minute had been played.
And when the game got under way Jackson was in the action straight away.
She scored her first points just 13 seconds into the match and the Capitals threatened to flex their championship muscle early.
While Canberra held a clear height advantage, the Rangers clamped down on the defending champion.
Just when it appeared the Capitals had the upper hand, the Rangers showed they had potential to be a finals team and skipped to a seven point lead.
Aware of Jackson’s scoring power, Dandenong shut her down and tried to keep her out of the match.
Casey Nash was impressive and finished the match with 17 points.
The Rangers held the advantage for the most part of the first half until Jackson inspired the Capitals just before the break.
She nailed a three-point shot to give Canberra the lead and from there the Capitals went on a 12-4 scoring run.
Jackson burst on to the court in the second half and helped her team on a 12-4 scoring run to open up a match-winning lead.
Her presence caused constant headaches for the Dandenong defence.
When she wasn’t scoring she was dishing out assists to her teammates.
Marianna Tolo scored 16 points, grabbed eight rebounds and made six blocks in another stellar game.
However, Abby Bishop was limited by early foul trouble and she was forced to play the majority of the match with four fouls.
While the Rangers were defiant, they simple couldn’t match it with the Capitals when the six-time champions decided to up the tempo.
AT A GLANCE
CANBERRA TRANSACT CAPITALS 83 (Lauren Jackson 25, Marianna Tolo 16, Jess Bibby 12) bt
DANDENONG JAYCO RANGERS 60 (Casey Nash 17, Ashley Lindsey 10, Stephanie Cumming 10) Crowd: 2180
By Chris Dutton for The Canberra Times
Photo courtesy of Eric Li for www.canberrapictorial.com.au