Heartbroken Opals digest pain of defeat

JENNI Screen tried as hard as she could to hide it, but the devastation and agony was all over her face after the Australian Opals’ gold medal campaign ended.

The tears rolling down her cheeks as she struggled to talk said: ‘‘I’m heartbroken.’’

But sporting a black eye that would do a rugby league player proud she said: ‘‘I’ve given everything.’’

And while the Opals will try to leave the London Olympics with a bronze medal, Screen is already wrestling with the painful decision between continuing her career or starting her family.

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Screen was shattered after the Opals lost to the United States yesterday morning (Australian time).

Despite an outstanding first half, the Opals could not fight off the defending gold medal winners and eventually lost 86-73.

It left Screen and many of her teammates in tears as the realisation of an uncertain future hit home.

For Screen it was even tougher to take after she had to sit out the second half after a collision ruined her vision.

Screen’s task during the tournament was not to be a dynamic scorer.

It was to shut down the opposition’s best player in every game and she succeeded.

She was given the task of stopping US superstar Diana Taurasi, and restricted her to four points from the free throw line in the first half.

But Screen’s departure from the court for the second half was a turning point.

Taurasi was able to find space and cut loose with two three-point bombs early in the third quarter to spark the US revival and finished the game with an equal team-high 14.

It would have been easy for Screen to pass the media after the tough defeat with the bruise under her right eye already severely swollen and blue.

It would have been even easier when she choked up while answering the first question.

But just like her hard-nosed play, Screen was determined to fight on.

‘‘I couldn’t play in the second half, I would have been a liability,’’ Screen said as her voice quivered.

‘‘Diana went to town and that hurt us big time.

‘‘I don’t know how the [black eye] happened. It actually doesn’t hurt.

‘‘I just can’t see, I can’t see the basket and I’m usually pretty tough, but I can’t play with one eye.

‘‘I’m getting close to 30, I feel grateful to get to my second Olympics.

‘‘Never say never, but I’d love to start a family.

‘‘But everytime I put on the green and gold it’s an honour."

There was a sombre feeling as the Opals walked off the court.

They had just lost the semi-final to their arch-rivals and missed out on a chance to chase Olympic Games gold for the first time.

Instead they will play Russia in the bronze-medal contest on Saturday.

Screen had to have scans after the match but there was no fracture.

Though she was cleared of major damage, it remains uncertain whether she will play in the last match.

‘‘Screen is a defensive specialist and it hurt ... she couldn’t see out of her eye, so her depth perception was screwed,’’ Opals coach Carrie Graf said.

‘‘So her being able to catch the ball or even sit it near the ring or see her player ... she couldn’t see and play one-eyed and that was an influence on how the game went.’’

Fellow Novocastrian Suzy Batkovic was stunned as she walked from the court.

What hurt the Opals most was their performance against the US was their best of the Olympics.

It was a contest worthy of deciding the gold medal.

But the Opals’ fairytale script did not go according to plan.

Veteran Kristi Harrower will retire from international basketball after two decades at the top, Lauren Jackson still does not know whether she will be available for Rio in 2016, but 31-year-old Batkovic said she had no plans for retirement.

‘‘It is a tough way to end, it’s disappointing but it was the best game we’ve played,’’ Batkovic said.

‘‘We went out fighting hard and unfortunately we lost this one, things just didn’t go our way.

‘‘At the moment I’m 31, I’ve still got plenty of years left in me and I’ll keep going along as long as I can.

‘‘I was probably a bit too quiet [against the US], it is what it is ... disappointing.’’

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