The highly anticipated rematch does not live up to the expectations
A matchup that we thought could be for gold heading into the tournament, team USA and Australia met in the quarterfinals this morning. Two pool play losses against Belgium and China forced the Opals to decimate Puerto Rico just for the chance to play the Americans. Despite the poor showing in the preliminary rounds, we saw just last month that this Australian team has the ability to defeat the US. The question is, can they do it again?
The biggest development early in the game was the second foul against Cayla George just a few minutes into the contest. Frontcourt depth is certainly not an Aussie strength, and they were forced to sit one of their best offensive scorers in the post right away.
Whether it can be attributed to George leaving the court or not, the next few minutes of play was Stewie time. Breanna Stewart got hot and poured in 10 quick points as the USA took a 16-6 lead, a very promising sign after multiple slow starts at these Olympics.
Australia’s biggest problem in the first quarter was themselves. Between offensive fouls, dead ball turnovers and bad forced passes, they committed 9 turnovers in the first quarter alone. Despite any intentional pressure from the Americans, their length on defense can be a contributing factor to poor decision making by an opponent.
The lead grew to 21-6 before Leilani Mitchell made her second triple of the game to end a 17-0 run. That momentum did not last long, as a perfectly executed Stewart to Sue Bird three-point play design nullified the previous possession.
With a 26-12 lead after the first quarter, it would be easy to assume that the Americans were in top form, but they too had turnover problems, with Diana Taurasi looking especially out of sync. Her frustration carried into the second quarter as an errant swing garnered an unsportsmanlike foul for DT, nothing new for the always aggressive veteran.
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The hero of the second period for the USA was Chelsea Gray. She was the only player that provided a spark off the bench, creating shots with her excellent ball-handling and passing abilities and also driving to the hoop. Gray is known for her midrange jumper, and I think her teammates could learn a thing or two from her desire to attack opponents 1 on 1. Yes, in a normal WNBA setting isolation attempts are some of the least efficient shots, but there is a lot of overpassing on team USA, and they need to remember that they are the best players in the world for a reason.
The Americans had a comfortable 48-27 lead at halftime, Stewart leading the way with 20. A notable absence on the Australian side was big numbers from their leading scorer Ezi Magbegor, who only had three points at the break.
The second half was really just more of the same. Brittney Griner and A’ja Wilson were still able to dominate inside, and Mitchell would throw up a three every now and then to give the Australians hope. Breanna Stewart is truly special, and now is a great time to remind people how impressive a full recovery after an Achilles injury is in basketball. She is simply remarkable.
The Aussies finally started getting some open looks late in the third quarter, but could not convert from deep, going into the fourth with an abysmal 39 points to their name.
An uneventful fourth quarter saw the Americans sit their starters for most of the period, and lackluster effort on defense decreased the margin of victory to a mere 24 points, with a final of 79-55. Australia shot just 29.6% from the field.
It is a very disappointing finish for Sandy Brondello’s squad, but Australia’s core group of players is still very young and has potential to be a threat for years to come.
Team USA with face Serbia in the semifinals, who knocked off China is a hard fought 77-70 matchup earlier in the day. The European champs will be a challenge for the Americans who are relatively unfamiliar with their personnel.