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Taylor, Phillips Key to Australia’s Golden Dreams

The Australian Women’s National Basketball Team is seeking an elusive first-ever gold at this summer’s Olympics. But upgrading their silvers from 2000, 2004 and 2008, and bronzes in 1996 and 2012 requires, of course, going through the U.S. Women’s National Team that has captured the last five golds.

When Australia fell to the U.S. in the Gold Medal game in 2008 — the teams’ third straight championship matchup — Lauren Jackson was in her prime, averaging 17.3 points and 8.6 rebounds during the tournament. Eight years later, Jackson’s now retired, fresh off her No. 15 being raised to the rafters by the Seattle Storm. As a result, Australia is still searching for a new identity.

There’s no question who will lead the Opals into this new era: 13-year WNBA veteran Penny Taylor, who missed the 2012 Summer Games due to injury, but is strutting to the Olympics with the hot hand. Her scoring average of 13.3 points per game for the Phoenix Mercury is her highest since 2011 (16.7), while her 42.6-percent mark from deep represents the third-best mark of her career (44.2 in 2010).

And her Olympic quest took on even more meaning when, before departing for Rio, she announced that this WNBA season would be her last as a basketball player.

While Australia has seven first-time Olympians, Taylor is well-equipped to carry the load. She stepped up to the tune of 14.8 points per game during the team’s silver medal run in the 2004 Games, when the Opals started 7-0 and fell to the U.S. in a final game rematch, 74-63.

As her return to the Games nears, Taylor is ready to represent her country and lead the tight-knight group. “It’s super exciting to play with younger talent that’s going to be our future. Since this will be my last go, I want to make sure going forward that we have a super competitive team, and we do,” Taylor told WNBA.com. “We have a lot of leaders on our team. It’s a matter of everyone doing their part.”

In that vein, Taylor will be joined by a fellow WNBA standout who also missed the 2012 Olympics. Four years ago, Dallas Wings guard Erin Phillips received the crushing news that she had not been selected to compete. The disappointment of 2012 makes her journey to Rio that much sweeter.

“I can’t really describe it,” Phillips told WNBA.com. “It’s been a hard road to get back into the team again. I’m disappointed after missing out on London, so I’m very, very grateful and humbled for this opportunity.”

Still, Phillips said wearing the green and gold is “enough to motivate you to do absolutely anything you can to win.” She’s done her part as a National Team contributor during Australia’s World Championships victory in 2006, the 2008 Olympics and the 2014 World Championships.

Originally drafted by the Connecticut Sun in 2006, Phillips is in her ninth WNBA season with her fifth different team. The 5-8 guard has appeared in 23 games during the Wings’ first season in Dallas, averaging 5.3 points while shooting 40.9% from deep. Her WNBA career peaked with titles in 2012 (Indiana Fever) and 2014, when she joined Taylor and Australian head coach Sandy Brondello — a former Opal herself — on the Phoenix Mercury.

With Taylor by her side once again, Australia boasts one of the sweetest-shooting backcourts in the tournament. Plus, “I’m finally understanding some accents,” Phillips joked.

“Australia is home,” she added. “When I look down the bench and see these girls, they remind me of home.”