With Win Over Serbia, U.S. Women Head to Gold Medal Game with History on the Line
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Brittney Griner, Breanna Stewart had a double-doubles in the USA’s 79-59 victory on Friday.
Just one more victory, and the U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team will secure its place in history, and a couple individuals will put a final stamp on their international legacies.
Behind double-doubles from Brittney Griner and Breanna Stewart, the U.S. (5-0) displayed dominant defense in stopping Serbia (3-2) 79-59 in Friday’s Olympic semifinal game at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.
Up next is going for a seventh straight gold medal, a feat accomplished by just one other team in Olympic history in any sport. The U.S. will take on either France (2-2) or host Japan (3-1) in the gold medal game, which is Saturday at 10:30 p.m. ET (11:30 a.m. on Sunday in Japan). The U.S. edged both teams in pool play.
Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird also could claim their own spot in the record books. The American backcourt duo could win a fifth gold medal, which would give them the most golds of any basketball player in Olympic history. They currently share the mark of four golds with Teresa Edwards, who played for the U.S. in five Olympics from 1984-2000 and also won a bronze.
The U.S. women would match the U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball Team’s streak of seven golds in a row, accomplished by winning the first seven golds (1936-1968) after the sport’s Olympic debut.
Friday’s win over Serbia was not one that will hang in the Louvre. The Americans shot 48.4% and committed 17 turnovers to just 12 for Serbia. But the U.S. defense picked up the slack, holding Serbia — which won bronze in 2016 at Rio in the country’s Olympic debut — to 30.2% shooting.
Griner had 15 points and 12 rebounds, Stewart 12 points and 10 boards, and Chelsea Gray added 14 points for the U.S.
“It wasn’t our best overall performance,” USA coach Dawn Staley said. “I thought we did a tremendous job defensively, just making it really hard for the Serbian team to get off clean looks. Offensively, I just thought we put enough points on the scoreboard to win. It wasn’t as clean and fluid as we would like, but at this stage of the game, you’re going to have to win a lot of different ways, and we found a way to win.”
Playing in a tough group might have been the best way for the U.S. to prepare for the knockout round. The U.S., France and Japan, three of the four semifinalists, all played in the same group, with Japan beating France in pool play.
“I think since we entered the knockout rounds, we’ve come to each game with a little more focus, so you’re seeing the results,” said Bird, who had eight points and four assists. “Most of it’s starting on the defensive end, and we’re just carrying that with us onto the offensive end. As usual with USA Basketball, when we come together, we just try to get on a path where we’re just getting better and better every day along the journey. I still think there’s another level that we can get to, and I hope that's what happens in two days.”
With Serbia trying to negate the U.S. inside game, Bird — who had scored only 18 points in the four previous games — had all eight of her points in the first half. Since starting these Olympics by missing her first 13 shots, Bird has found her shooting eye and gone 9-for-12.
“Defensively, just keeping them out of the paint, making it difficult for them,” Gray said of the plan to slow Serbia. “We knew they were going to pack the paint defensively as well, so we had to make the right reads and play off of each other.”
But now, it comes down to one game to add another chapter to a growing history book, not only for the U.S. but for Taurasi and Bird, too.
“I don’t think we really talked about it as much, but we’re all aware of it,” Stewart said. “Sue and Dee, what they’ve done for USA Basketball is extremely special. The fact that they’re going for five straight golds is insane. And I think for the rest of us as coaches, as players, we want to make sure that we put them in the best possible position to get that gold.”
Like Stewart, Griner will be going for a second consecutive gold and also recognizes what is at stake.
“I think everybody here wants to win gold for them, for us, for everybody that started this streak and got us here,” Griner said. “I mean, there’s a lot of different reasons why we want to win this gold medal. So I think you're going to see some really good basketball in that gold medal game.”