London Semifinals: USA Tops Australia
The round was different. The result was the same. For the fourth consecutive Olympics, the USA women eliminated Australia, this time in the semifinals with an 86-73 victory Thursday in London. The USA advanced to Saturday's gold-medal game while relegating the Opals to playing for bronze.
The 40th consecutive Olympic victory for the U.S. was anything but easy. In fact, Australia led 47-43 at halftime after controlling the opening 20 minutes. The Opals built their lead by playing through star center Liz Cambage, who proved a difficult matchup for her smaller American counterparts. Cambage scored 19 points in the first half and got plenty of help from her hot-shooting Australian teammates, including Storm star Lauren Jackson.
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After the USA defeated Australia, Storm teammates Bird and Jackson met in the postgame handshake line.
With Diana Taurasi in foul trouble, the USA turned to Storm point guard Sue Bird to help keep them in the game. Bird scored 10 points, setting a new career high for Olympic play before halftime. The U.S. women never lost contact with the Opals, setting them up for a second-half comeback.
In the locker room, USA Head Coach Geno Auriemma emphasized the importance of stopping Cambage. That meant post players doing a better job of keeping Cambage from establishing position and perimeter players putting more pressure on the ball to prevent entry passes. The combination resulted in a complete 180-degree shift in Cambage's impact on the game. She was held scoreless after halftime.
The USA quickly served notice that the second half would be different. Diana Taurasi opened the half by making a three-pointer while being fouled. When Tina Charles scored the next trip down, the U.S. women had reclaimed the lead. They would relinquish it just once the remainder of the game.
With their first option on offense taken away, the Opals began to struggle with the kind of turnovers that feed the American attack. Cambage alone committed seven turnovers of the team's 20. Australia's scrappy play and ability to track down offensive rebounds helped the team hang around, but a 12-4 run to end the third quarter and start the fourth shifted the game in the USA's favor. The Opals got no closer than 10 minutes during the final five minutes as the U.S. salted away the victory.
In addition to focusing on Cambage, the American defense also prioritized taking away Jackson, who attempted just 11 shots, scoring 14 points. Her presence was felt most clearly on the glass, where she pulled down a game-high 17 rebounds. Australia got 12 points from veteran point guard Kristi Harrower and 10 from wing Jenna O'Hea, yet still lacked the scoring punch to keep up with the deep USA roster.
Eight different American players scored at least seven points as Auriemma stuck with the 10-player rotation that has helped wear opponents down throughout the Olympics. Taurasi finished with 14 points, eight of them at the free throw line, and Charles matched her in addition to grabbing 10 rebounds. Bird finished with 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting, adding four rebounds and two assists.
The U.S. women now move on to play the winner of Thursday's second semifinal between France and Russia in the gold-medal game on Saturday (1:00 p.m., NBC Basketball Channel; delayed on NBC at 4:00 p.m.). The USA is playing for its fifth consecutive gold medal, while Bird - along with teammates Taurasi and Tamika Catchings - is going for her third.
Australia, winners of three silver medals with Jackson on the roster, finds itself in the unfamiliar position of playing for bronze earlier Saturday (9:00 a.m., MSNBC). While that's not the medal she wanted to earn in London, Jackson has a chance to join Teresa Edwards and Lisa Leslie as the only women with four Olympic medals.
USA 86, AUSTRALIA 73: Box ScoreComments blog comments powered by Disqus