U.S. defeats Australia, 82-70; Faces Spain for gold
When U.S. point guard Sue Bird (Seattle Storm) says that Australia has “an identity within themselves and they really play to it,” she was speaking not just as a four-time veteran of the World Championship, but as someone who has played with and against Australian players throughout her professional career in the WNBA and abroad. That identity — of fierce, physical play mixed with tactical savvy and timely threes — was on display last night as the Opals went toe-to-toe United States in the Women’s World Championship semi-finals at Fenerbahce Arena in Istanbul, Turkey.
Having witnessed United States’ center Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury) thoroughly dominated the French in the quarterfinals, the Opals targeted Griner hoping to get her into foul trouble. That worked, as she picked up two quick fouls and was limited to six scoreless minutes in the first half. Unfortunately for the Australians, as head coach Joyce Brendan noted, “Tina Charles stepped up big time and played a major role in getting her team across the line.”
Charles’ 18 points and Maya Moore’s (Minnesota Lynx) 16, combined with a suffocating defense that limited the Australians to 34-percent shooting, helped earn the U.S. team an 82-70 win and a place in the gold-medal game.
“Tonight you saw the experience that Tina has,” said Geno Auriemma (University of Connecticut), the American head coach. “Tina’s doing a lot of little things that [don’t] show on the box score, whether it’s getting through a screen, making a pass to somebody, tipping the ball, or keep[ing] possessions alive. I’m not surprised, but I couldn’t be happier for Tina.”
It was a game in which the United States led for all but 4.20 minutes, but never seemed comfortably in control. The Australians cut into what at times ballooned to a 19 point-lead several times, coming within 6 points in the third quarter and forcing Auriemma to call a time out.
“It wasn’t him screaming his head off at us,” said Moore of the huddle, “because we know at this point what needs to be done. We know what we need to do; we know the flow of the game, where we messed up. He just tries to give us things to focus on moving forward. We were a little angry that we were getting beat on defense, and we took that energy and made sure we were connected when we were on the defensive end.
“It’s what we hung our hat on. Sometimes the ball doesn’t go in, sometimes there’s a call you don’t agree with, you get an offensive foul and things are getting a just little crazy and you have to get your defense to get you out of those holes to give your opportunity to get your flow back on offense. Whenever we made our runs, it was when our defense was really solid and connected.”
Next up: The US will face Spain in a match-up that echoes the one many anticipated would happen in the Men’s World Championship this past month, but didn’t come to fruition when the Spanish men’s team failed to make the final. Asked if the women’s team was feeling any extra motivation or pressure about the matchup, center Sancho Lyttle (Atlanta Dream) answered with a smile. “I think for me it’s good that I don’t speak a lot of Spanish so I don’t know what’s going on half the time. I think I play differently than them because I don’t know what they’re saying when they’re trying to hype each other up. So I don’t think the pressure was on me – I just came to play. I’m the level one on the team.”
Lyttle is just one of many players known to the American players.
“I played with three members of the Spanish National team,” Moore said. “I’m familiar with their pace, their competitiveness and their skill. They have some quick guards and the post players are pretty versatile themselves, with great hands and great passing ability. They’ll crash the offensive boards. We’re going to have our hands full, but I think collectively, 1-12, we have what it takes to overcome their 12. But, it’s going to be a heck of a ball game and I’m excited to play.”