|USA Bound For Semifinals After Leveling Lithuania 90-56|
TThe 2006 USA Women's World Championship Team (7-0) pulled away from Lithuania (3-4) in the second quarter and is bound for the medal semifinals after dispatching the Europeans 90-56 on Wednesday night at Ibirapuera Arean in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Candace Parker (Tennessee / Naperville, Ill.), who broke Katrina McClain's USA record for blocked shots at a World Championship (11 in 1990) with a total of 12 through the USA's first seven games, notched a game-high of 18 points as every U.S. player scored.
The quarterfinal victory sends the USA into Thursday's semifinals and a rematch with Russia (4-3), which edged Spain (4-3) 60-56 on Wednesday afternoon. The U.S. defeated Russia 90-80 in its third game of the 2006 World Championship on Sept. 14. The USA's semifinal game will air live on NBA TV at 6:45 p.m. (all times EDT), with a replay scheduled for midnight on FSN.
"I was really pleased with our performance tonight," said USA and Seattle Storm head coach Anne Donovan. "We struggled with the first quarter to start the way we wanted to. But I thought that in the second and third quarter, I think we held them to 11 points in the second and third combined. Defensively we really wanted to get after it and change the tone from the first quarter and I thought we did a great job -- good job on the backboards, good job defensively -- we got out in transition as much as we wanted to after being slowed down by the Czechs."
Australia (7-0) and Brazil (5-2) also won their quarterfinals games today and will face each other in the 4:30 p.m. semifinal. The four 06 semifinalists have dominated the world over the past decade. A combination of Australia, Brazil, Russia and the United States have swept all gold, silver and bronze medals in Olympic and World Championship play dating back to the 1996 Olympics. Since the 1992 Olympics, only China has broken into the medal hunt, claiming silver in the 1992 Olympics and at the 1994 Worlds.
The semifinal winners will compete for the gold medal on Saturday (Sept. 23) at 1:00 p.m., while the semifinals losers will play for bronze at 10:00 a.m. that day.
Lithuania started red-hot, hitting its first five shots from 2-point, while the USA had trouble finding the bottom of the net and at 6:41 Lithuania was up 13-8. But, as has been the case much of the tournament, the USA's depth and running game began to erode the opposing side.
After swapping leads, Lithuania was up 26-24 with 28.7 ticks left on the first quarter clock. That was the last time Lithuania would enjoy an edge over the United States.
Alana Beard (Washington Mystics) drove the lane and scored a traditional 3-point play with 16.2 seconds left. That play not only put the U.S. up for good, it also kicked-off a 17-0 scoring spree, fueled by eight points from Parker, that extended to the 3:17 mark of the second quarter when Sandra Valuzyte was sent to the line. Sinking both her tries, Lithuania finally halted the USA run. But by that time the American women were in command 41-28.
Allowing just six Lithuanian points, all from Valuzyte, in the second quarter's final minutes, by halftime the game was in hand 48-32. The USA's defense smothered Lithuania in the second quarter and forced them to shoot just 1-of-14 from the field.
The U.S. notched the first eight points, four apiece from Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever) and Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury), coming out of the locker room to move ahead 56-32 and at the end of three the lead was insurmountable at 69-37.
The USA, which outscored Lithuania a combined 42-11 in the second and third quarters, went up by as many as 44 points (87-43 with 4:05 to play) and sailed through the fourth quarter for the eventual victory.
In addition to Parker's 18 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots, the well-rounded USA effort was aided by 15 points from Tina Thompson (Houston Comets); Catchings scored 12, grabbed a game-best eight boards and also had three steals; Katie Smith (Detroit Shock) pitched in 10 points and Sue Bird (Seattle Storm) passed out four assists and was credited with three steals.
"I know she was a three-time Olympian and a great player," said Parker when told about breaking McClain's record. "I think defense throughout my career at Tennessee and in the past with USA Basketball could have been better and it's something I've tried to focus on here at the World Championship and just give our guards confidence that I'm going to be behind them to help them when they get beat. It means a lot. It means my defense is improving and its an honor."
The USA outrebounded Lithuania 48-24, had 16 steals of Lithuania's 24 turnovers and shot a respectable 44.6 percent (33-74 FGs) from the field.
Ausra Bimbaite and Valuzyte each scored 12 and Agne Ciudareine had 11 points. The U.S. defense held Jurgita Streimikyte-Virbickiene (15.0 ppg), and Lina Brazdeikyte (10.2 ppg.), the two of Lithuania's top three scorers entering tonight's game who competed, to just three points.
Tonight's victory upped the USA's current FIBA World Championship winning streak, which dates to the 1994 World Championship bronze medal game, to 26 games and extends the USA's string of victories to 50 overall in the Olympics and Worlds.
Australia (7-0) blew away France (3-4) behind 19 points from Lauren Jackson and 18 from Penny Taylor, while Brazil (5-2) took the Czech Republic (4-3) 75-61 with the help of Iziane Marques' 23 points and Janeth Arcain's 15. Russia (4-3) relied on 14 points apiece from Ilona Korstine, Maria Stepanova and Natalia Vovopynova as it fough off Spain (4-3) 60-56.
"The one thing we know about Russia is they always come back the second time around more focused and a better team," said Catchings. "That's one of things we said after the game the first time we played them was hey, we're going to see a different team. Stepanova played with four fouls and fouled out in the third quarter and that's not going to happen this game so we have to have a different mentality. The coaches have done a great job scouting them and we'll come out tomorrow and we'll be ready."
In classification play Argentina (4-3) downed Cuba (2-5) 76-73, while Canada (2-5) took China (3-4) 65-61.
All of the USA's World Championship games are being televised live on NBA TV, with FSN (Fox Sports Network) replaying the games each night at midnight.
Donovan is being assisted at the 2006 FIBA World Championship by 2006 WNBA Coach of the Year Mike Thibault of the Connecticut Sun and collegiate head coaches Gail Goestenkors of Duke University (N.C.) and Dawn Staley of Temple University (Pa.).
2006 FIBA World Championship
The Donovan-led U.S. squad will seek to defend its World Championship
title at the 15th FIBA World Championship. Behind the play of 2002 FIBA
World Championship MVP Leslie, as well as Bird, Catchings, Milton-Jones,
Smith and Swoopes, the United States captured the 02 gold medal,
successfully defending it's 1998 World Championship crown.
The U.S. entered this year's Worlds with a record seven gold medals, one silver and one bronze at the World Championship, while compiling an 80-20 (.800 winning percentage) record, including a 19-0 winning streak that dates back to the 1994 bronze medal game.