Taurasi leads U.S. women to win over Australia
OSTRAVA, Czech Republic – For one of the rare times, the United States faced Australia in the world championship without much at stake.
It didn’t make a difference for the two women’s basketball powerhouses.
Diana Taurasi scored 24 points to help the United States beat Australia 83-75 on Wednesday night and earn the top seed in the quarterfinals at the women’s world basketball championship.
“She’s an unbelievable competitor,” U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said. “Australia’s the defending world champions and I knew that would bring out the best in Diana and it didn’t surprise me one bit.”
Sylvia Fowles added 15 points and Tina Charles had 14 points for the U.S. (6-0), which will face South Korea on Friday in Karlovy Vary in the quarters. Australia (5-1) will take on the Czech Republic. The Americans remained undefeated against the Aussies in the worlds, improving to 9-0 all-time.
Liz Cambage, the 6-foot-8 phenom, scored 18 points to lead Australia while Lauren Jackson added 13.
The two teams could meet again in a potential gold medal game.
“It’s not in my nature or USA basketball’s nature except to try and win this game and do what we had to do to win this game,” Auriemma said. “There’s no guarantee we’ll play them again. We wanted to play tonight’s game to win.”
It was strange seeing them meet so early in the tournament. This was the first time since 1994 that they played in the worlds before the medal round.
“Any game with them is a big game,” Australia coach Carrie Graf said. “The emotional effect to get up to play great opponents. It’s great practice for quarterfinal play, semifinal play, gold medal play.”
Even with a lot less at stake, the teams went right at each other, trading points early on. It was tough for anyone to get into an offensive flow though as the officials called 17 fouls in the first 8 minutes.
Leading 21-18 with 1:56 left in the first period, the Americans took over with Fowles and Taurasi keying an 18-0 run.
The 6-foot-6 center started the spurt with a tough lay-in. Taurasi followed with an acrobatic jumper. On the next play, Sue Bird tracked down the ball at midcourt and passed ahead to Fowles for another easy lay-in as the Americans were off and running to the delight of the crowd of 6,340.
The U.S. led by 11 after one period and continued the onslaught to start the second quarter, scoring the first nine points. Taurasi hit two 3-pointers during the burst, including one with 8 minutes left that capped the run and made it 39-18.
“We were embarrassing on the glass,” Graf said. “It was like little girls playing ladies. That sets a tone for the game.”
Jackson finally ended Australia’s drought with a deep 3-pointer, but the U.S. maintained an 18-point halftime lead.
Unlike the 2008 Olympic gold medal game when the Americans jumped out to a 17-point halftime lead and then coasted to a 92-65 win, Australia battled back in the second half.
“It was just a tale of two halves for us, Taurasi said. “We played pretty well in the first half, the second half they played pretty well. We came up with more plays.”
Trailing 67-48, the Aussies scored eight of the next nine points to make it a 12-point game as Cambage started to assert herself on both ends, blocking shots and showing an array of post moves.
The 19-year-old, who leads the team in scoring for the tournament, has shown vast improvement since the first time the U.S. saw her in a scrimmage back in July.
“First time we played against them this year I thought she was really good,” Auriemma said. “She’s young and raw and it would appear she gets better every practice. She’s better than the game before. It’s so difficult to guard her 1-on-1. She’s going to be unbelievable difficult to play against.”
Her three-point play with 2:26 left cut Australia’s deficit to 79-70, but it wasn’t enough.
“I think we could learn a lot from those 40 minutes tonight,” Auriemma said.