There’s always a game within the game – and even though Australia would extend a 32-28 second quarter lead to as many as seven before the break, the tide had already turned with 6:11 to go in the second quarter.
The reason? Liz Cambage was exhausted. Up to that point, Cambage had scored 13 points and dominated the game, but she was also completely out of gas. She leaned over at the free-throw line, hands on her knees, and had to come out of the game.
She did put up six more easy points before halftime, but that was much more due to the simply awful defense of Candace Parker than any particular exertion on Cambage’s part, and she was held scoreless in the second half by a flurry of American defenders, including Asjha Jones, who had been nearly invisible in these Olympics.
The final score in the London 2012 semifinal was 86-73, with the United States not really taking charge until late in the third quarter, but in this one, the game within the game was Team USA’s depth and pace and speed and strength just wearing down an Australian team that did everything it had to do to give itself a chance to win. And also give a nod to Geno Auriemma, who had his team spend plenty of time in a 2-3 zone from mid-second quarter on in order to keep the Opal guards from controlling the game.
The Aussies got brilliant guard play from Kristi Harrower and Samantha Richards, who broke down the American defense repeatedly in the first half and hit three of four three-pointers. The Opals also shot very well overall (49 percent), outscored the U.S. 40-28 in the paint, and watched the Americans miss 11 of 29 free throws.
And they still lost by 13, which is a measure of just how good Team USA is. With Diana Taurasi struggling, Sylvia Fowles clearly hampered by injury, Parker ineffective and the guards unable to defend, it was still, when the horn sounded, an easy win.
Taurasi did finish with a team-high 14 points, and added five rebounds, but she was just two for seven from the field and turned the ball over three times (in addition to her four fouls). Tina Charles, who got worked by Cambage early and made just six of 14 from the field, also had 14 points, but she had 10 rebounds, four assists and two steals as well.
The only other American in double figures was Sue Bird with 13, which was more than half of the 25 points she had scored in London prior to this game. She also didn’t turn the ball over at all in 28:17, and her three-pointer with 5:07 left gave the U.S. a 76-64 lead that even the grittiest Australian knew was too much to overcome.
That didn’t stop the Opals from battling, though, as they won almost every 50-50 ball during the game, and got huge contributions from Harrower (12 points), Lauren Jackson (14 points, an incredible 17 rebounds) and Jenna O’Hea (10 points, three assists, no turnovers).
Still, the American depth did more than just wear out Cambage, who was scoreless in the second half after 19 in the first 20 minutes. Lindsay Whalen scored six points in a row late in the third quarter, including a 13-footer that gave the U.S. the lead for good at 57-56; Seimone Augustus hit two back-breaking jumpers early in the fourth period; and Jones was on the floor, guarding Cambage, when the tide turned.
The Olympic win was the 40th in a row for Team USA, and puts it in line for its fifth straight gold medal Saturday. Many expected that gold medal game to be against Australia, which once again came up short against its most bitter rival, but the Opals have nothing to be ashamed of. They played their best game in London when it mattered most, and simply didn’t have the firepower to stay with the best team in the world for 40 minutes.
And after this one, it’s hard to believe anyone can.
- Can Australia finally beat Team USA? It could happen
- No tanking this time -- Russia and France are playing for a shot at gold