USA and Atlanta Dream star Angel McCoughtry, center, tries to drive past Canada's Tamara Tatham during a women's basketball game at the 2012 Summer Olympics on Tuesday in London.
LONDON — Suffocating, smothering and down right stingy. The U.S. women's baskteball team used a dominant defensive effort to advance to the Olympic semifinals.
Now they'll face a challenge trying to contain Australia's huge front line of 6-foot-8 Liz Cambage and 6-5 Lauren Jackson to get back to their fifth straight gold medal game.
"We've played Australia enough times to know their perimeter guys are good, but the strength of their team is Lauren and Cambage," said U.S. coach Geno Auriemma after a 91-48 win over Canada in the quarterfinals Tuesday. "They're what make that team go. I think they're going to impose themselves on us."
Jackson became the Olympics all-time scoring leader in women's basketball on Tuesday with 536 points, passing Brazil's Janeth Arcain in Australia's 15-point win over China in the quarterfinals. She's been impressed with the Americans, a team she hasn't been able to beat in her illustrious career.
"They are great," the three-time Olympic silver medalist said of the Americans. "Their defensive pressure is amazing. I'm not going to think about it. The key is to keep our composure and keep at it. We can't get down by their fast break points otherwise it will be a very frustrating game."
The Americans had Canada frustrated with their stellar defense as they cruised to the semifinals for the eighth straight Olympics. They harassed the Canadians into three shotclock violations in the first 7 minutes.
"It's one thing to miss a shot, but to not be able to get a shot off says a lot about your defense," Auriemma said. "It's a double whammy. It brings your team closer together because it took all five guys to create that and takes the life out of the offense of the other team."
Getting the defensive stops and forcing the violations provided a huge lift to the Americans.
"That's probably a better feeling than making a 3, when as a unit you found a way to stop them as a unit," said Diana Taurasi, who led the U.S. with 15 points. "That's really hard to do because to get a shot off isn't the hardest thing, it might not be a quality one, but you can get a shot off."
The Americans created 26 turnovers and were off and running.
"We really were in sync defensively," Candace Parker said. "Everyone knows that this team can score a lot of points, but we were locked in defensively and that will be huge going forward."
The U.S. held Canada to the fewest points it has given up in an Olympic quarterfinals since beating Slovakia 58-43 in 2000.
"We get steals. We get deflections. We get rebounds, kick the ball out and here we go. We're rolling." said U.S. forward Tamika Catchings, who had four steals.
The Americans haven't lost to Canada since playing in the world championship in 1975. The victory was their 39th straight in Olympic play and came 20 years to the day after the win that started the streak — a 88-74 victory over Cuba for the bronze medal in the 1992 Barcelona Games.
Canada, which was the final team to qualify for the London Games, made its first appearance in the Olympic quarterfinals. The Canadians looked timid against the Americans' pressure defense at the start.
Taurasi said locking teams up defensively "has to be our focus."
Despite its stellar defense, the U.S. was sloppy on offense at times.
The Americans missed a bunch of easy shots early on and only led 8-4 before scoring the next 11 points to take control. Parker had four points during the spurt.
Canada was able to close within 11 points in the second quarter, but the U.S. put the game away, outscoring its northern neighbors by eight the rest of the half to lead 42-21 at the break.
Shona Thorburn's running left-handed fling from 15-feet that banked in at the halftime buzzer was the lone highlight for Canada in the first half — when the Canadians had more turnovers (12) than field goals (six).
By the time Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant showed up in the third quarter after they had finished practice, the U.S. women had doubled Canada's score: 57-28.
It only got worse from there.
Sylvia Fowles played in her second straight game after missing three in a row to rest a sore left foot. She only played nine minutes in the win over China. She looked stronger against Canada scoring 12 points in 9 minutes.
Kim Smith scored 13 points to lead Canada.
Despite the final outcome, Canada coach Alison McNeill was proud of her team's Olympic run.
"We really have come far over the last few years," she said. "It may be the last time they are together, but they should be so happy of where they have brought Canadian basketball."