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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

U.S. Takes Early Lead, Outlasts Australia for 83-75 Win

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Photo Caption: Diana Taurasi led Team USA to an 83-75 win over reigning world champion Australia, with a game-high 24 points, plus two boards and three assists, her best performance of the tournament to date.

Photo Credit: Tara Polen

By Lee Michaelson

U.S. Head Coach Geno Auriemma said earlier this week that he was still waiting for a “big game” from Diana Taurasi. He got one Wednesday night, as the Phoenix Mercury star and last year’s WNBA MVP put up 24 points to lead Team USA to an 83-75 win over the reigning World Champions, Australia.

The game was being played for nothing but pride, as both teams had already secured their berths in the Women’s World Basketball Championship quarterfinals, which tip off in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic, on Friday. But you couldn’t tell it on the court, as both teams, previously unbeaten in the tournament, battled unrelentingly to secure the top seed out of Ostrava’s Group E.

But the U.S. got the upper hand early, as Team USA, using the starting line-up—Taurasi, Sue Bird (Seattle Storm), Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever), Candice Dupree (Phoenix Mercury) and Tina Charles (Connecticut Sun—first introduced in Tuesday’s game against Belarus, came strong out of the starting gate.  The two teams traded baskets for much of the first five minutes, and Penny Taylor made one of a pair from the foul line to put the Opals one point behind the Americans at 13-14 with 5:30 left in the period.

That’s when Sylvia Fowles (Chicago Sky) grabbed the rebound from Taylor’s missed foul shot and put it in at the other end on an assist from Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta Dream) to launch a 7-0 mini run that saw the U.S. up, 21-13, just a minute later.

The Aussies whittled the U.S. lead down to three points over the next few minutes, thanks entirely to success at the charity stripe, but the final minute and a half of the quarter saw Fowles and Taurasi combine for an 8-0 run to close out the opening period with the U.S. up, 29-18.

The Americans carried their momentum into the start of the second period, with Fowles and Catchings working the paint, while Taurasi knocked down a pair of treys to expand the lead to 21 points. The score stood at 39-18, USA, before Australia finally found its bearings behind a three-pointer by Lauren Jackson (Seattle Storm) and a steal and breakaway by Belinda Snell. Snell muffed the lay-up, but Penny Taylor was there to clean things up, and Australia was at last back in the game.

The pace of the scoring slowed from there as Australia stiffened its defense, but that didn’t Maya Moore from knocking down a midrange jumper to launch another 8-2 American run, that put the margin back to 24 points, 47-23.

Australian newcomer Abby Bishop (Seattle Storm) capped the run with a short jumper on an assist from Penny Taylor, and Liz Cambage contributed a short jumper and a pair of free throws to once again shave the lead to 18.

That’s where things stood at the break, as a buzzer beater by Bishop left the U.S. on top, 51-33.

By that point, both Fowles (15 points) and Taurasi (12) were already in double figures for the Americans. Australia was led by Lauren Jackson with eight, plus five boards (but three turnovers).

Photo Caption: Sylvia Fowles had her most dominant performance of the tournament to date with 15 points, all of them in the first half, plus a team-high six rebounds. Fowles has been recovering from recent arthroscopic knee surgery and only a week ago, it was uncertain whether she would be able to play in the World Championships.
Photo Credit: Tara Polen

Turnovers were contributing mightily to Australia’s troubles, as the Opals had already coughed the ball up 13 times to the Americans’ seven. Half the Aussies’ errors were unforced (Team USA had six steals), and the Americans were making the most of the opportunity with 13 points off turnovers in the first half to just four for Australia.

Australian coach Carrie Graf had already corrected part of the problem before taking her team to the locker room. Despite the Australians’ distinct advantage in height in the paint, Team USA had controlled the boards, 13-9 – and particularly the offensive glass, 7-2—in the opening period. By halftime, the Opals had cut the overall rebounding lead to one board, with the Americans leading the battle of the boards, 21-20, but just as importantly, Australia had taken control of the offensive boards, 10-8, thanks largely to the efforts of Jackson and Bishop. As a result, Australia was leading 8-4 in second-chance points.

Still, that was pretty much the only thing (other than turnovers) where Australia held a lead. The U.S. shot 56 percent from the field in the opening half; Australia, just 38 percent. Team USA in general, and Fowles in particular, had owned the paint, where the U.S. held a 30-16 edge on points in the paint. They had also successfully executed their transition game, with a 13-2 advantage in fast-break points. This despite the multitudinous whistles, and the FIBA practice of allowing substitutions on any dead ball, without waiting for an actual break in play, both of which combined to break up the flow and make it difficult to acquire the momentum needed to put a fast-break offense in high gear.

Foul trouble was piling up for both squads. Candice Dupree had picked up her second personal with 6.5 seconds left in the first quarter. By halftime, Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta Dream) already had her third personal, and Swin Cash (Seattle Storm) and Charles had joined Dupree with two apiece.

The Australians had four players – Jackson, Cambage, Bishop and Snell—with two fouls apiece.

In what proved to be a story of two halves, Australia came out of the locker room with tightened defense, stepped up rebounding and far more efficient scoring. In fact, the Opals outscored the U.S., 42-32, in the second half of the game.

Asked what she had to say to her team at the break to accomplish that turnaround, Graf responded, “I don’t think I swore.”

But she left no uncertainty about it – she hadn’t been pleased. “The U.S. were on track for 120 points – that would be quite embarrassing.”

“Look, I mean, we were embarrassing on the glass.  That was the bottom line. It was like little girls playing ladies. We were a disaster on the glass. And that sets a tone for the game.  We got out-physicaled, out-muscled, off everything.”

“It’s un-Australian to do that,” Graf continued. “Whether you’re playing the might of the U.S. or a lesser opponent, you can’t be out-muscled out of plays.  Credit to our team. We adjusted to the physical nature of the game and raised our intensity and swung that possession game around a little. But that was the big focus for us. You can’t let great teams get out to huge leads like that.”

Whatever Graf had to say, she should bottle it and sell it. The Australian recovery had actually begun in the last five minutes of the opening half, when Australia’s defense held Team USA to just four points, while its offense put up eight of its own. The first five minutes of the second half looked much the same – the U.S. was held to just four points, while Australia began eating into the lead with nine points that began with a Liz Cambage lay-up off a Kristi Harrower feed.

Cambage then blocked Tina Charles’s shot on the next possession, but missed the lay-up at the opposite end. But though the U.S. got three opportunities on their next possession both Catchings and Taurasi missed three-point attempts and Dupree turned the ball over.

Things progressed along this vein, with more turnovers than makes over the next several minutes. But midway through the period, with the lead now down to 11, 55-44, both teams seemed to catch fire. Two Sue Bird jumpers and two more three-pointers by Taurasi stretched the U.S. lead back to 19, but Cambage went back to work inside the paint, and U.S. fouls kept sending Australians to the line. At the end of three, the score stood at 72-57, Team USA.

By this point, McCoughtry had picked up her fourth foul; Fowles and Charles had three apiece. On the other side, Cambage had four personals, while Bishop and Jackson each had three. The frequency of the whistles was favoring the Australians, who by that point had made 27 trips to the charity stripe for 18 points, while the U.S. had picked up 11 points on 17 attempts from the line. Still, the constant interruptions in play made the game difficult to watch, and players on both sides at times seemed confused as to why they were being called.

“It was a really physical game, and there were calls going both ways, against both teams, and we just have to adjust to the referees,” said Australia’s O’Hea.

“I agree,” said Fowles laughing. “There were some calls that we did not know what was made and why they [were] made. But at the same time, you can’t get caught up in the referees and let them dictate the game.”

Once again, Australia’s defense clamped down, limited the U.S. to five points in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter and six more for the remainder of the game, while the offense posted 18 points. Three times in the final period, Australia cut the U.S. lead to single digits.

Each time, however, the U.S. answered – Tina Charles knocked down a midrange jumper to put the lead back to 11 the first time Australia threatened; Taurasi nailed a pair from the line, the next; and Catchings blocked Penny Taylor’s attempted three-pointer to stave off the third.

But Cambage grabbed the offensive board from Taylor’s miss, and with under a minute left, Harrower drained a three to bring the score to the final, 83-75 margin.  With 23 seconds left, Fowles grabbed the board on Jenna O’Hea’s final attempt to narrow the gap, and Sue Bird was able to dribble out the waning seconds.

“They had 51 at the half. That’s way too much and it was a bit of a shock,” said O’Hea afterward.  “They came out really aggressive and they were shooting really well. We’re Australians and we fought back and we slowly took it away. We cut it under 10 a couple of times. Unfortunately, we missed some easy shots, and we’ve got a lot to take away from that game.”

When the dust settled, Australia had narrowed the overall rebounding deficit to five, with the U.S. still holding a 45-40 edge on the boards, but the two teams neck-and-neck at 18 apiece on the offensive glass. Australia exploited this turnaround to the tune of a 17-11 edge in second-chance points.

Australia had also closed the gap in the paint, where the U.S. now led by just 44-42. And while the Aussies still had 18 turnovers for the game as a whole, the U.S. now had 20 miscues.

While Australia’s field-goal shooting stood at an unusually low 25-of-65 (38 percent), including four-of-23 (17 percent) from beyond the arc, Team USA’s accuracy had dropped to 46 percent (32-of-70) from the field, and 33 percent (six-of-18) from long range, for the game as a whole. Twenty-one of Australia’s points had come from their 30 trips to the line, whereas the U.S. gleaned just 13 points from their 19 visits to the charity stripe.

Taurasi led all scorers with 24 points, plus two boards and three assists (but four turnovers). Though Auriemma had been waiting for a big night from his former UConn star, he said he wasn’t surprised at her outstanding performance against Australia.

“Diana’s a great competitor more than anything else,” he stated. “As good a basketball player as she is, and as skilled at basketball as she is, she’s an unbelievable competitor. Games like today are what defines great players when you’re playing great teams. Some players play great a lot of nights, but Diana plays great usually against the best teams. Australia is the defending World Champions, and I knew they would bring out the best in Diana. Her performance tonight didn’t surprise me one bit.”

Sylvia Fowles (15 points) and Tina Charles (14) joined Taurasi in double figures. Fowles led the way for the Americans in rebounding with six boards; Dupree added five.

It was the most dominant effort in the tournament thus far for Fowles, who said she is feeling comfortable on the court after her recent knee surgery.

Cambage owned the second half, however, and finished leading Australia with 18 points and a game-high seven boards, plus four blocks. Moreover, even when Cambage wasn’t scoring, she was attracting the double team, leaving teammates open to score.

“I think Liz Cambage came of age today,” said Graf after the game. “Liz was a shining light, and I think that augers well for her and for her future as an Australian Opal and as an international player.”

Photo Caption: “Liz Cambage came of age today,” said Australian coach Carrie Graf of her 6-8, 19-year old phenomenon. Here, Cambage puts the move on Team USA’s Candice Dupree. Cambage led the Opals with 18 points and a game-high seven rebounds, plus four blocks.
Photo Credit: Tara Polen

Sylvia Fowles spoke of the challenge involved in defending against a player like Cambage: “It’s something different. She’s a big body you have to go up against. She’s very physical, but you just have to get after her. If not, she’ll embarrass you. And I ain’t trying to get embarrassed.”

“The first time we played against them this year, I thought, she was really good,” said Auriemma of the 6-8, 19-year old Australian prodigy. “And she’s young and she’s raw and it would appear to me that she gets better every practice, ‘cause every time I see her, she’s better than the game before. It’s so difficult to guard her one-on-one, and it doesn’t matter who it is that’s trying to guard her. She’s going to be unbelievably difficult to play against – tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. She’s going to be really hard to play against.”

Jackson added 13 points, five boards and a block, but five turnovers; Snell chipped in 11 points, four rebounds and three steals.

Harrower dished out a game-high seven assists, but Penny Taylor had a quiet night with just eight points, plus five boards but an equal number of turnovers.

Both teams now advance to the quarterfinals, where the tournament takes on a sudden-death format. Up first for the United States on Friday when play resumes in Karlovy Vary after a travel day is South Korea, the fourth-place finisher from Brno’s Group F. Australia will take on the host team, the Czech Republic, who finished in third-place in Group F with a 4-3 record.

Wednesday’s Other Games

* = Team Advances to Quarterfinals

Group E – Ostrava

  • Belarus* (3-3) 74—Greece (2-4) 70

    High Scorer: Styliani Kaltsidou (Greece) – 29

    High Rebounder: Yelena Leuchanka (Belarus) – 11


  • France* (4-2) 49—Canada (1-5) 47

    High Scorer: Kimberly Smith, Natalie Achonwa (Canada) – 12

    High Rebounder: Natalie Achonwa (Canada) – 8


  • USA* (6-0) 83—Australia* (5-1) 75

    High Scorer: Diana Taurasi (USA) – 24

    High Rebounder: Elizabeth Cambage (Australia) – 7

Group F – Brno

  • Korea* (3-2) 65—Japan (1-5) 64

    High Scorer: Sunmin Jung (Korea) – 21

    High Rebounder: Asami Yoshida (Japan) – 9


  • Czech Republic* (4-2) 84—Brazil (2-4) 70

    High Scorer: Iziane Castro Marques (Brazil) – 27

    High Rebounder: Ivana Vecerova , Jana Vesela(Czech Republic) – 8


  • Russia* (6-0) 76—Spain* (1-5) 67

    High Scorer: Rebecca Hammon (Russia)—27

    High Rebounder: Sancho Lyttle (Spain) – 12

Classification Rounds – Karlovy Vary

  • China (2-3) 86—Argentina (1-4) 60

    High Scorer: Mariana Cava (Argentina) – 18

    High Rebounder: Dan Liu (China) – 11


  • Mali (1-4) 69—Senegal (0-5) 67

    High Scorer: Aya Traore (Senegal) – 15

    High Rebounder: Marie Sy (Senegal);  Djenebou Sissoko, Magnouma Coulibaly, Djene Diawara (Mali) – 8


Originally published Wed, September 29, 2010

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
7 Kentucky 21-3 5 15 7 584
8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
10 Ohio State 21-2 11 NR-RV
10 483
11 Tennessee 17-6 8 3 11 476
12 Delaware 20-1 13 NR 12 434
13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
16 Rutgers 17-4 14 12 17 372
17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
18 Gonzaga 21-3 19 NR-RV
19 234
19 Purdue 19-5 17 21 16 222
20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
22 104
24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
NR 24 46
25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
NR 45
Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
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Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.