Australia Cruises Past Russia to Win First Gold Medal; USA Takes Bronze

SAO PAULO, Brazil, Sept. 23 (Ticker) -- Australia finally has the gold. The United States managed to salvage the bronze at the Women's World Basketball Championships.

After winning a medal at every Olympic Games and World Championships since 1996, Australia seized the gold for the first time with a 91-74 victory over Russia on Saturday.

Penny Taylor scored 28 points to earn MVP honors ahead of teammate Lauren Jackson, who is considered by many to be the best player in the world. Jackson finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds.

Australia (9-0) capped an unbeaten tournament run, although it never had to play the United States, which was upset by Russia in the semifinals.

Diana Taurasi scored 18 of her 28 points in the third quarter to lead Team USA to a 99-59 victory over host Brazil in the bronze medal game on Saturday.

"We knew we had to bounce back," Team USA coach Anne Donovan said. "We knew that not just Brazil would be ready, but we knew the fans would be ready. So our mental preparation and our emotional preparation had to be high."

On Thursday night, Team USA (8-1) had its 50-game winning streak in international competition end in stunning fashion with a 75-68 loss to Russia in the semifinals.

The winning streak in FIBA and Olympic competition dated to a 110-107 loss to Brazil in the semifinals of the 1994 World Championships. The run included championship victories over Russia in the 1998 and 2002 Worlds.

Russia (5-4) looked like it would follow up the upset of Team USA with a win over Australia after racing to a 9-2 lead. But Australian coach Jan Stirling called a timeout, and his team responded with an 11-2 run.

Australia held a 19-15 lead after one quarter and opened the second period with an 11-0 run. Maria Stepanova scored eight points as Russia closed the half with a 15-6 spurt to pull within 43-35.

Taylor took over in the second half, producing consecutive steals and layups as Australia opened the lead to 64-43. Russia got no closer than 14 points thereafter.

Stepanova, who finished third in the MVP voting, collected 17 points and 13 rebounds.

Despite the disappointment of not playing for the gold, the Americans showed plenty of pride Saturday.

"I give a lot of credit to the girls," Donovan said. "We knew we had to come out and play our best game in order to walk away with the bronze."

After Team USA methodically built a 49-34 halftime lead, Taurasi caught fire with four 3-pointers in the third quarter, when the Americans outscored Brazil, 34-11. Donovan sat her starters in the final period.

Taurasi played just 16 minutes and made 11-of-15 shots, including 6-of-7 from 3-point range.

"Individually, you could talk about it being a very good night," Taurasi said. "But as a team we learned a lot about ourselves. We came off a tough loss to Russia, who played a great game, hats off to them they deserved it.

"This morning we knew it was going to be a very difficult game against a wonderful Brazilian team. Our focus was the highest it's been all tournament, which is a testament to the coaches for getting us prepared."

Tina Thompson scored 15 points and Tamika Catchings added 11 and nine rebounds for Team USA, which shot 56 percent (39-of-70) from the field, including 11-of-20 from 3-point range.

Janeth Arcain of the Houston Comets scored 16 points for Brazil, which shot just 37 percent (22-of-59), including 4-of-20 from the arc.

Alessandra Olivera, who averaged 13.8 points and 8.6 rebounds in Brazil's first eight games, wore a sling on her left arm and watched from the bench.

The Americans opened the third quarter with a 13-5 spurt as Taurasi hit two shots from the arc. The All-Star guard of the Phoenix Mercury outscored Brazil by herself, 11-2, in just under a two-minute span later in the quarter to help the U.S. open an 83-45 lead.

"We played the way we wanted to play and 'D' (Taurasi) was just ridiculous in the second half and opened it up for us," Team USA guard Sue Bird said.

On Friday, the Czech Republic (5-4) captured seventh place with a 57-49 victory over Spain (4-5) in Ibirapuera. Hana Machova scored 17 points to lead the Czechs.

In the fifth-place game, France (5-4) built a big lead and held on for a 79-73 victory over Lithuania (4-5).