LONDON (AFP) –
Australia and the United States, opponents in the past three Olympic women’s basketball finals, will meet in a semi-final showdown after impressive triumphs on Tuesday.
The four-time defending champion US Women’s NBA (WNBA) stars routed Canada 91-48, improving their Olympic win streak to 39 games. The Americans have not lost at the Olympics since a 1992 semi-final.
“Our team is special. It’s like the Barcelona 1992 Dream Team for women,” said US playmaker Angel McCoughtry. “It’s all about the chemistry. It’s a group of stars that work together for the team.”
Australia’s Lauren Jackson became the all-time leading scorer in Olympic women’s basketball history by striking for 12 points in the Opals’ 75-60 victory over China, launching them into Thursday’s US matchup.
“The Americans are going to be a huge test,” Jackson said. “We can’t get unfocused. They are a hard team to beat. The big key for us is to keep our composure. We can’t get 20 points behind.”
Jackson’s 536 total Olympic points are one more than the old mark set by Brazil’s Janeth Arcain. The 31-year-old 1.95m Aussie centre broke the mark on her last basket, an inside jumper with 3:45 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Thursday’s other semi-final will pit reigning European champion Russia, which edged Turkey 66-63, against unbeaten France, which rallied in the fourth quarter to edge the Czech Republic 71-68.
Becky Hammon scored 19 points, including a layup with 13 seconds remaining that gave Russia the lead for good in a rematch of last year’s European final while French captain Celine Dumerc scored 23 points as the Czechs squandered an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter.
The Americans are 15-0 against Australia in Olympic and world championship competition, a domination dating to 1967.
“We have never beat them, but it has got to start somewhere,” Aussie Suzy Batkovic said. “They are incredible athletes, it is really about the defensive end and getting good, easy looks, moving the ball well and setting screens.”
The US women are unconcerned that their success might be taken for granted given the lopsided margins they have enjoyed in London.
“The big story is if we didn’t play well or if we lose, but we really don’t care,” US coach Geno Auriemma said. “There are no feminists in my team. We’re not running around burning our bras. We’re just playing basketball. And we do a pretty good job at it.
“I could burn my bra,” he quipped, “because it doesn’t really fit anymore.”
US players are quite aware that no medal has yet been won at London.
“All of us have been in this situation before,” US star Candace Parker said. “So we know what we came for we haven’t accomplished yet. We still have to continue to fight.”
Aussie centre Liz Cambage, who scored a game-high 17 points against China, admitted she was looking past her Asian foes to the Americans.
“Personally I wasn’t focused, I was already focused on USA,” Cambage said. “That’s a pretty big thing to have in the back of your mind. It’s going to be a battle, it’s going to be a big battle.”
Aussie Jenna O’Hea doesn’t mind facing the United States in the semis, rather than the final.
“If we want to win gold, we have to beat them either way,” she said. “Anything can happen.”