Regardless of what happened in today’s semifinal, the Spanish Women’s National Basketball Team had already made history; never before had they even reached this stage at the Olympics. Now, by virtue of their 68-54 win over Serbia, they’ll be guaranteed their first ever Olympic medal. On Saturday, they’ll play the winner of the United States vs. France for the 2016 gold medal in women’s basketball.
How Did They Get Here?
In the 2015 FIBA Women’s EuroBasket tournament, Spain went 8-0 to start the tournament, before falling to France in the semifinals. They then went on to defeat Belarus to take the bronze medal, qualifying for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in France.
The trip to France might as well have been a vacation for the Spaniards, as they cruised through their three games with a 3-0 record, winning each game by at least 20 points to qualify for the Olympics for the fourth time in the country’s history.
In Rio, Spain was placed in Group B along with the United States, who would be the only team to beat the Spanish women during the group stage.
The second place finish in the group set Spain up with a matchup against Turkey, who finished third in Group A. And it was there where it looked the Spaniard’s Olympic journey would come to an end. With 3:45 remaining, Turkey lead 60-52, and Spain looked completely out of answers, mustering just 10 points in the frame prior to that point. But then Anna Cruz and Laura Nicholls took over. The duo went on a 12-2 run to close the game, and Cruz sunk a runner at the buzzer to give Spain the 64-62 victory.
Thursday’s semifinal against Serbia was not quite as dramatic, as Spain lead by double digits for the last 15 minutes, cruising to a 68-54 victory.
The 6-foot-3 shooting guard has been a machine in Europe, winning both the FIBA Europe Women’s Player of the Year Award and EuroLeague Finals MVP in 2011 and 2014. She’s been tough to guard in Rio as well, dropping 32 points on China and averaging 16.1 points per game, good for sixth in the tournament. She’s not just a scorer, however, pulling down nearly six rebounds a game, and dishing out three assists a night as well.
If there is one main weakness to her game, it’s that she can become careless with the ball. During the Olympics, her 3.9 turnovers per game are fourth among all players.
The lanky Ndour will be familiar with WNBA fans, as she plays her club ball for the San Antonio Stars. While she’s more of a role player for San Antonio, Ndour has shined in Rio.
Her 13.6 points per game are second on the team (14th among all players), and the 8.7 rebounds she’s grabbing are a team-best (4th among all players). She’s also leading the tournament in blocks, with 1.9 per game.
Cruz, the hero of the game against Turkey, also played a key role in the Minnesota Lynx’ 2015 championship run.
Cruz’ game isn’t limited to just hitting game winners – she does it all for Spain, scoring 8.4 points, grabbing 4.1 rebounds and handing out 3 assists per game. Plus, the 29-year-old veteran provides plenty of energy during every second she’s on the floor.
Once again, this will be a name WNBA fans recognize, as Xargay has played with Phoenix and proven herself to be a deep threat over the last two seasons. In her 25 career WNBA games, Xargay is shooting 41.2 percent from downtown. That ability has not left her down in Rio, as she’s leading the team (and ranks 11th in the tournament) in three-point shooting, at 43.8 percent.
Defense: Spain has allowed just 66.6 points per game in Rio, third among all teams, and just 3.4 points worse than the stout American defense.
Sharing The Ball: The 18.9 assists Spain is averaging is good for third among all teams in Rio and second only to the U.S. among teams still alive.
Scoring: Spain is fifth among all teams in Rio, putting up 74.1 points per game, while shooting a respectable 43 percent from the field, good for sixth in the tournament.
Three-Point Shooting: Spain has had a rough time from behind the arc during the Olympics, shooting just 31.3 percent from downtown. Only Brazil, who shot 24.7 percent and were eliminated in the group stage, were worse.