USA’s women have made it to the Olympic gold medal game after defeating Australia 86-73 in the first semi-final at the North Greenwich Arena.
Tina Charles and Diana Taurasi led the Americans with 14 points each but it was Lindsay Whalen who took the pludits after she scored all six of her points in the third quarter as USA, who were behind for the majority of the game until she took over, they raced ahead 61-56 and never trailed again.
Talking about Whalen; USA coach Geno Auriemma explained: “We talked about that in the locker room after the game. We’ve got some players sitting on the bench that are pretty good players, and they’re good at everything but they’re good at a couple of things.
“When Lindsay [Whalen] and Seimone [Augustus] came off the bench, they did exactly what they are good at. Lindsay’s the kind of player that doesn’t get a lot of recognition as she is behind Sue Bird who is one of the best guards in the world and Lindsay is just there but this whole tournament she’s been great and no more so than that second half in this game because we really needed to go on a little bit of a run and she made three straight baskets. That’s Lindsay.”
Whalen only played 12:27 and didn’t contribute with anything else, but she didn’t need to. Her six points in a two minute spell changed the game.
“I just wanted to make the baskets if we needed it and play really good defence,” she said. “Coach told me to be aggressive, after the first half just get in there, make a couple of plays and I thought I did that. Everyone then hit shots and it stretched [the other players] into making big shots.”
Sue Bird hit 13 points in victory for the Americans.
But it was a gutsy effort from the Aussies, who shot the ball so well in the first, going for 61 percent but they crumbled under tremendous pressure from Team USA as they ended by shooting 43 percent to USA’s 45.
Liz Cambage, who still led the Aussies with 19 points and grabbed seven rebounds was then held scoreless in the second half of play as USA clamped down in the low post as the 6’8 Australian, who became the first female to dunk in an Olympic game lost all confidence and was taken out of her stride by the ruthless frontcourt.
“They brought the defence in the second half, and we just didn’t match it, we didn’t match it on the night” Cambage said.
USA started brightly, something quite rare in these Olympics, scoring the first basket which Sue Bird followed up by nicking Cambage’s inbound to score for 4-0 but the old habits came back for the Americans, as Australia traded blows inside through the 6’8 Cambage who scored freely.
A 6-0 run gave the Opals an 18-14 lead which was quickly responded by the States in a evenly balanced first quarter of play, but the Aussies came out all business in the second quarter, with a 7-0 run to take a 39-32 lead with 5:01 to play in the half before back-to-back buckets from Bird broke the spell.
Australia had the upper-hand as the two teams went into the half with them leading 47-43 through Cambage and as a team, sharing the ball and giving their superstar freedom to work.
As a team, the Opals dished out 11 assists in that first half.
They dished out just seven more in the second.
USA then clamped down on Cambage, who didn’t score in the third quarter as USA turned it on. Hitting Australia on the break, and scoring often. They won the third quarter 22-12 and stamped their authority on the game.
“I thought the game was played exactly the way we thought it was going to be played in terms of the intensity level and the physical nature of the game,” Auriemma said.
“We’ve played a lot of basketball in the last month with my team and I don’t think anyone has played as well against us as Australia have, especially in that first half.”
Australia’s Lauren Jackson had 14 points to add to Cambage’s 19. They still have a chance at a medal, as they play for the bronze medal on Saturday afternoon.