USA Women Fight Off Russia 67-52 To Advance To Saturday's Gold Medal Game
The 2008 U.S. Women's Olympic Team (6-0) rallied back from a 38-33 third quarter deficit to hand Russia (5-2) a 67-52 loss and earn a spot in Saturday's gold medal game. The USA victory avenged the its 75-68 loss to Russia in the 2006 World Championship semifinals in Brazil.
Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury) led all scorers with 21 points, including 5-of-8 from 3-point to set the U.S. Olympic game record for 3-point field goals made. Tina Thompson (Houston Comets), who shot 3-of-4 from 3-point, tallied 15 points.
The U.S. defense starred in the contest, holding Russia, which entered the game leading the Olympics in 3-point shooting, to just one made 3-pointer.
The USA will closeout its competition facing also unbeaten Australia (6-0), which topped China (5-2) 90-56 in today's late contest, in the gold medal game Saturday at 10:00 p.m. (10:00 a.m. EDT on NBC and NBC HD). Russia will square off against China for the bronze medal Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
'We recognize that Russia coming into this was shooting 45 percent from the floor and number one from the 3-point line in the tournament, so we knew we had to defend or else it was going to be a long night. I thought our girls did that, did a great job on that, stayed very focused,' said USA head coach Anne Donovan.
The stage is now set for the U.S. and Australia to clash for the third consecutive Olympic gold medal game, with the U.S. earning the top spot on the podium both times, securing a 76-54 victory in 2000 and a 74-63 win in 2004. Most recently, these two teams met up on Aug. 5 in the 2008 FIBA Diamond Ball gold medal game, with the USA recording a 71-67 win.
'All of the media have been talking about USA (versus) Australia since the Diamond Ball Tournament,' said Donovan. 'So, we've done our job to get there. I know both teams will come out and play hard. It will be a great match.'
The U.S. defense held Russia to one 3-pointer in 14 tries and 36.2 percent shooting from the field. Offensively, the U.S. shot 43.0 percent from deep (9-21 3-pt FGs) to help compensate for a cold 33.3 percent from the field and an icy 64.0 percent from the free throw line (14-22 FTs).
The USA outrebounded Russia 52-33, including 21 offensive boards. Sylvia Fowles (Chicago Sky) collected 10 rebounds, Taurasi snagged nine boards, while Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever) and Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks) each grabbed eight.
'Today was a very good test for us, it was a very tough game against Russia,' Taurasi said. 'They played great basketball, and we found a way to win. Once you get this far its finding a way to win, it doesn't matter if it's one or 30 (points), you just want to win the game.'
With the score at 5-4 in the USA's favor, Russia's Maria Stepanova scored six consecutive points to put Russia in the lead 10-5 with 4:57 on the clock, and the USA called its first timeout at 4:30. The U.S. responded with its own 6-0 run out of the break, capped by a deep 3-pointer from Thompson to take an 11-10 advantage. The lead changed twice before Russia closed the period with the quarter's last four points, and for the first time in the tournament, the USA was down as it headed to the bench after the first period, trailing 16-13.
The USA opened the second quarter with three points to tie the score at 16-16, but Russia put together six unanswered points to move ahead 22-16. Thompson knocked another three to end the spurt and cut the lead to 22-19, but Russia outscored the U.S. 8-4 to move out to a 30-23 lead with 2:28 showing on the clock.
From there, Taurasi ignited a 10-0 U.S. spurt with a 3-pointer at 2:21 and then closed the run with a second three to help recapture the lead for the USA, 33-30 with 50.4 seconds remaining before halftime. As the U.S. held for the last possession, Russia's Irina Osipova stole the ball from the USA and scored two fast break points to cut the U.S. lead to one, 33-32, at the break. The USA finished the first half with 13 turnovers.
'Obviously the first half was a huge struggle for us,' Catchings said. 'Russia came out and played with a lot of intensity and was able to stay close in the game.'
The third period began with yet another Russian run that once again gave them the lead, 38-33, 2:43 seconds into the second half. The U.S. battled back, however, and two points from Thompson in the paint were followed by a 3-pointer from Katie Smith (Detroit Shock), and the USA was on its way to a 15-2 run to end the third quarter with a 48-40 lead and the game's momentum.
'Definitely in the third quarter we had a little spell where we were able to bank some shots, I hit a three, (Diana) got one, our inside game got going,' Smith stated 'Everybody kind of chipped in there and our defense was solid all night through and really kept us in the mix to make that run.'
Fowles scored the first two points of the quarter, Russia added one point from the free throw line, and a Seimone Augustus (Minnesota Lynx) bucket gave the USA a 52-41 with 9:09 on the clock. Taurasi sank two more 3-pointers on her way to eight fourth quarter points, and Russia never got closer than 10 points for the remainder of the game. The USA outscored Russia 19-12 in the final stanza to win by 15 points, 67-52.
'We're excited, and we're looking forward to facing Australia,' said three-time Olympic gold medalist Lisa Leslie (Los Angeles Sparks). 'This is exactly where I've been before, and I'm excited to be here with a new group and just hoping to get our ultimate goal and that's a gold medal.'
Including the 2000 and 2004 wins, the U.S. and Australia have met four times at the Olympics, and the U.S. has never lost to Australia in Olympic or World Championship play. The Americans own an overall 13-0 record against the Opals in those two events.
'(Australia) will be our toughest game,' said Kara Lawson (Sacramento Monarchs). 'We played them in Haining, and it felt like a gold medal game, how physical it was, how hard both teams were playing, how hard baskets were to come by. It's going to be a championship battle, that's what it's going to be.'
Donovan is assisted by University of Texas head coach Gail Goestenkors, University of South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley and Connecticut Sun head coach Mike Thibault.
The defending Olympic champs, the USA women in fact will be vying for a fourth consecutive Olympic gold. Since women's basketball was officially staged at the 1976 Olympics, the Americans have collected a record five gold medals, one silver and one bronze medal, and now own a 49-3 (.942) overall record in eight Olympic appearances (the United States chose not to participate in the 1980 Olympic Games).