Aug. 9, 2012
Trailing by four points at halftime, 47-43, the U.S. Olympic Women's Basketball Team (7-0) buckled down on defense in the second half to rally for a hard-fought 86-73 win against Australia (5-2) and advance to the gold medal game of the 2012 Olympics on Thursday evening at North Greenwich Arena in London, England.
The USA will meet the winner of tonight's semifinal between Russia (4-2) and France (6-0) in the final at 9 p.m. (5 p.m. EDT) on Aug. 11. In its historic quest for a fifth-straight Olympic gold medal, the USA women currently are riding a 40-game Olympic winning streak that dates back to the 1992 bronze medal game.
"I thought the game was played exactly the we thought it was going to be played terms of the intensity level and physical level of the game and how hard both teams were going to compete," said Geno Auriemma, USA and University of Connecticut head coach. "We have played a lot of basketball in the last month, and I don't think anyone has played better against us then Australia did in the first half. That was an impressive display of basketball, and we had no answer for that. It was incredible what they did to us. I really have a lot of admiration for them and tremendous amount of respect for them and their coaching staff. I am really proud of the way we responded in the second half, how we came back and did some things that USA Basketball is known for. I am really proud of my players."
The USA was led by 14 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the free throw line by three-time Olympian Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury), and 14 points, 10 rebounds and four assists by Tina Charles (Connecticut Sun). Sue Bird (Seattle Storm) made 6-of-8 shots from the field for 13 points, and Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever) grabbed eighth rebounds to go with her seven points.
After allowing Australia's 6'8" forward Elizabeth Cambage 19 first-half points, the USA held her scoreless in the second half and cooled off Australia's 60.6 percent (20-33 FGs) from the field in the first 20 minutes to just 26.5 percent (9-34 FGs) after the midway point.
The USA's halftime deficit marked the first time the American women had trailed at halftime in Olympic play since lagging behind Russia in the third game of the 2000 Olympics.
"You have to give credit to Australia," Taurasi said. "They played tough. They played physical. They get in your way. They do a lot of stuff. In the second half, we did a better job of countering that with some different sets, getting people into different spots, and I think we saw some better things in the second half."
A bucket inside from Charles and a steal and score from Bird put the USA up 4-0 to start the game. From there, the game was tied five times over the next five minutes. With the USA leading 14-12 after a score from Bird, Australia put together six unanswered points to lead 18-14 at 2:19. The USA erased the deficit and the game was tied at 18 after points from Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta Dream) and a fast break bucket from Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks) at 1:37. Australia put four more points on the scoreboard while Sylvia Fowles (Chicago Sky) scored for the USA, and the Aussies led 22-20 at the end of the first period.
Australia struck first in the second, but each team matched each score over the next four minutes, and Catchings sank two free throws to even the game at 32-32. Australia pulled away with a 7-0 run and led 39-32 at 5:01. Two baskets from Bird brought the USA back within three points, 39-36 at 4:17, before a three-point play from Cambage and a score from the field put Australia back up by seven points, 45-38, at 2:16.
Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx) responded with a 3-pointer to pull the USA back within four, and each team put two more points on the board to head to the halftime locker room with the USA trailing at the half for the first time in the tournament, 47-43.
"I've been down before, I've been in close games before," Bird said. "We all have. And there was really no panic. We took what you could probably call Australia's best shot, 61 percent, one player with basically 20 points in a half. Things couldn't have gone any better for them, and we were only down four. So, we took that as a positive."
Out of the break, the USA defense buckled down. While the Americans erased the deficit with a 3-pointer from Taurasi and a score from Charles in the first 41 seconds, its lead remained at no more than four points over the next four minutes. Australia trailed 55-51 and rallied once more and took its last lead of the evening, 56-55, with 3:58 remaining in the period.
The USA closed out the period with a 10-3 run that included six straight points from Whalen, followed by two from Charles. Headed into the final 10 minutes, the USA had built a 65-59 advantage.
"I think the biggest thing was just to come out and play a little harder on defense," Whalen said." I feel we needed to get more pressure on the ball. They were able to shoot open shots. We need to be able to get a hand up, kind of bother them. Once we did those things, kind of extended our pressure a little bit, and made it hard on them to get those easy shots, then we were able to run after that. You know, it's kind of all about stops at halftime. Get the stops and we were able to run, and after that it felt like we were able to get a couple of things in transition, a couple of things easier earlier - not have to just run halfcourt the whole time."
After a score from Seimone Augustus (Minnesota Lynx) at 9:49, Australia sank a three to close within five points, 67-62, at 8:46, but that was as close as they would get. Augustus answered with another score at 7:26 to put the USA up by seven, and the USA went on to outscore Australia 19-11 to reach the 86-73 final.
Australia fouled down the stretch in an attempt to draw out the game, but the effort was too little too late - even with the USA finishing a dismal 62.1 percent from the free throw line (18-29 FTs). In the last minute, the USA put the ball in the right hands as Taurasi was a perfect 4-of-4 to end the game.
Cambage finished as her team's high scorer with 19 points, while three-time WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson added 14 points and grabbed a game-best 17 rebounds.
"I think it's good," Parker said of the USA's tough test. "We would rather this than any other way. I think you learn more about yourself in a game like this than you do when everything is falling and all your shots are going in."
*Story provided by USA Basketball