Preview: USA vs. Australia
Competing for a third consecutive FIBA World Cup title, which would be an unprecedented achievement in USA Basketball history should it win the championship, the USA Women’s World Cup Team (5-0) will take on Australia (5-0) in the gold medal game on Sunday at 3 p.m. EDT in San Cristobal de La Laguna, Canary Islands. The game will be televised on ESPN.
The USA and Australia never have met in a World Cup gold medal game, but the two are very familiar with each other. This will be the 11th meeting between the USA and Australia in World Cup play. The USA, ranked No. 1 by FIBA, has won all 10 previous matchups.
In World Cup gold medal games, the USA has a record of 9-1, with the only loss coming against the Soviet Union in 1983.
Despite its career record against the USA, Australia, No. 5 in the FIBA rankings, has earned its share of hardware at the World Cup, capturing the gold medal in 2006 and bronze in 2014.
Australia romped its way to the gold medal game this year, defeating its opponents by an average of 26.8 points. Its first real challenge of the tournament came against Spain in the semifinals. Behind a boisterous home crowd, Spain pushed Australia but fell in the end, 72-66.
Australia is led by 6-foot-8 center Liz Cambage of the WNBA Dallas Wings. She is averaging 27.2 points and 2.4 blocks per game, both top performances in the tournament. She also is pulling down 9.8 rebounds per game, third most in the tournament. Cambage scored 33 points in the semifinal on 11-of-16 shooting from the field and 11-of-12 from the line. The total was one point less than the 34 points Cambage scored against Nigeria, the high for any player in this tournament. In fact, Cambage is responsible for four of the top ten scoring totals in the tournament.
“Obviously, we have to focus on Cambage,” said USA Basketball assistant coach Jen Rizzotti (George Washington), who scouted Australia. “But any team that has only worried about her has gotten burned by the three ball. We’re just going to have to play really good team basketball. Limit her easy touches, and then make her have to guard us.”
Players like 6-foot-8 center Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury) and 6-foot-4 center Tina Charles (New York Liberty) will have to deal with Cambage, who is both an offensive and defensive presence. The USA enjoys a luxury that Australia does not, a wealth of capable post players.
“We’ve got a lot more depth at the post spot that can score,” Rizzotti said. “We always have to remember, as much as we worry about the other teams’ offense, that they have to worry about ours.”
The USA increased its World Cup winning streak to 21 games last night against Belgium with a 93-77 victory. Belgium, playing in its first World Cup, hung with the USA through a half and trailed by one heading into the intermission.
Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury) recorded 13 of her team-high 26 points in the third quarter. Her outburst put the USA up by 16 entering the final stanza, and it maintained that lead until the end.
Australia Head Coach Sandy Brondello, also head coach of the WNBA Phoenix Mercury, already knows Taurasi’s game, as well as Griner’s.
“The beauty about playing the USA is I do know them very well,” Brondello said. “I’ve coached them for so many years now that I know all their tendencies, but knowing them and stopping them may be two different things. We have to put our best game forward, the best game of the tournament. I think if we can do that, yeah, we can win, but we won’t be afraid. We’re just gonna go out there and fight in typical Opal style.”
With seven assists in the Belgium game, Sue Bird (Seattle Storm) increased her World Cup career total to 102, one short of Staley’s USA record of 103. That’s not the only record Bird could break today, as she could become the first player in FIBA World Cup history, male or female, to earn four gold medals.
Ryan Gregory is a contributor to USAB.com as part of the Sports Capital Journalism Program at IUPUI.