Australia's center Elizabeth Cambage, left, and forward Rachel Jarry, right, challenge American Diana Taurasi during Thursday's Olympic semifinal game.
It’s U.S.-Argentina again in men’s basketball semis
LONDON — Ten mesmerizing minutes can’t make the U.S. men’s basketball team forget the last 10 years.
When the Americans face Argentina on Friday in the Olympic semifinals, they aren’t preparing for the team they left in the dust Monday during a third-quarter onslaught. That was so easy, so effortless, that another matchup so soon seems like a waste of time.
The Argentines are proud champions, with a core of beloved veterans fighting to go out in glory, a team whose accomplishments are almost on par with the Americans over the last decade.
That’s the team the U.S. players are counting on seeing at the North Greenwich Arena.
“We already know what to expect as far as the intensity of this game tomorrow night. They’re going to bring it,” U.S. forward Carmelo Anthony said Thursday.
“We know what to expect from ourselves, we know what we’ve got to do, we know what’s at stake and tomorrow is one of biggest games that we’ve ever played,” he added. “Tomorrow is just about who wants it the most.”
It’s the third straight Olympic semifinal meeting for the countries, adding to what’s been perhaps international basketball’s foremost rivalry in the last decade. Argentina beat the U.S. in 2004 en route to the gold medal, two years after a victory in the world basketball championship made the Argentines the first team to beat a U.S. team with NBA players.
The Americans won four years ago in Beijing, have beaten the Argentines twice this summer, and it’s almost fitting that they require a stopover to face each other before either can get back to the medal podium.
“For us, its the semifinals. You don’t need other, or you shouldn’t need any other motivation,” U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “The fact that they’re so good should make us even more prepared.”
After six almost-even quarters, the Americans appeared to have solved the Argentines in the third quarter Monday, outscoring them 42-17 behind Kevin Durant’s 17 points and coasting to a 126-97 victory. Even Manu Ginobili and Luis Scola, who’ve had as much success against U.S. players as anybody, realize Argentina has no shot in a game played at that pace.
“If we want to have any chance to win the game, that just cannot happen,” Scola said. “Not even 120, not even 110, not even 105. We need to put that game in the 90s. That would be pretty much our only chance to win.”
The Americans are averaging 118 and haven’t been held below 98 in the tournament, so Scola may have to readjust his goals.
But Argentina did make it tough for the U.S. in an exhibition game last month in Barcelona, trimming a 20-point deficit to four before the Americans pulled out an 86-80 victory. And the U.S. led only 60-59 at halftime Monday against an Argentina team that was playing without Pablo Prigioni, its starting point guard who has signed with the New York Knicks.
Four years ago, the Americans humiliated Spain by 37 points in pool play, only to find themselves with just a four-point lead down the stretch a few days later in the gold-medal game. Argentina, with cagey and crafty 30-somethings who rely on their minds now as much as their legs, will try to conjure up something to make a similar turnaround.
“They’re smart, they’re really good and we just have to be ready for anything,” Krzyzewski said.
These Americans seem to have all the answers — Anthony said they have “no weaknesses” — breaking out a weapon they hadn’t even needed yet in London when Australia got close in the third quarter of Wednesday’s quarterfinal. Kobe Bryant made six 3-pointers and scored 20 points from there as the Americans broke away for a 119-86 victory.
LeBron James turned in the first U.S. triple-double in the Olympics with 11 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists — with no turnovers.
“We are playing some good ball right now,” James said. “We are going against a team next that we know, that we are used to playing. They are going to be excited to play us; we are going to be excited to play them, too.”
Both games this summer have grown chippy, and the Americans were downright furious Monday when Argentina’s Facundo Campazzo punched Anthony in the groin as he was making a 3-pointer in front of their bench to cap off their shower of shots. But the U.S. players said they aren’t expecting anything dirty Friday.
“No, I don’t think they’re stupid enough to do it again,” Anthony said.
The winner will play either Russia or Spain on Sunday in the gold-medal game.
Anthony expects the Argentines to come out full of energy in one of the final appearances of the “Golden Generation,” the core who led them to gold in 2004, silver in the ’02 worlds, and a bronze in Beijing. Ginobili and Prigioni are 35, Scola is 32, and even they weren’t sure they had another run in them after some shaky play during their exhibition schedule.
They were emotional after beating Brazil on Wednesday, remaining on the court long after the buzzer in celebration of a chance to leave the world stage with at least another bronze.
The Americans have higher goals — and expectations. They’re supposed to come home with gold, making Friday’s game more a must-win for them than for Argentina.
But Krzyzewski, who’s coached against Scola and Ginobili as many times as he faces some college players at Duke, is ready for the kind of feistiness he’s come to expect.
“They want to win, so I don’t know how you measure how much somebody wants to win,” Krzyzewski said. “But they want, they’re not just showing up and happy. We’ll give them our best shot and they’ll give us their best shot, and that’s what we expect. And I hope we give them what they expect and see what happens.”
LONDON — Now this was something new. The U.S. women’s basketball team faced its first Olympic halftime deficit in 12 years Thursday night as it tried to reach the gold medal game for the fifth straight time.
Not to worry.
The Americans took a deep breath at the break, then used a pivotal 16-6 scoring run sparked by the their defensive pressure to rally for an 86-73 win over Australia.
U.S. coach Geno Auriemma turned to his Olympic rookies to lead the way.
The group — led by Tina Charles and Lindsay Whalen — pressured Australia into turnovers and bad shots, helping the U.S. reach the title game for the fifth straight time.
“We came out in the second half and once we got control of the game, it took off from there,” Auriemma said. “It just illustrates it’s only one night. If you have a great night and the U.S. has a poor shooting night or defensive night there goes the tournament.”
Australia didn’t have a great night, but they had a great half.
Behind the inside play of 6-foot-8 Liz Cambage, the Australians shot 61 percent and led 47-43 at halftime. But with a chance at another gold medal on the line, an inspired U.S. squad regained the lead behind the play of the reserves, harrassing Australia into just 4 of 18 shooting from the field in the third quarter.
The Americans will play France in a matchup of unbeaten teams. It will be the first time the two teams have played in the Olympics.
It will be the first time since 1996 that the Americans won’t be facing Australia for the gold.
“We knew before that to win the gold you have to beat Australia whether it’s in the semifinal or the finals,” Auriemma said.
Australia went right at the U.S. with Cambage leading the way but the Americans’ depth and pressure defense were the difference again.
The Australian’s budding star scored 19 points in the first half, she was scoreless in the second half.
Sue Bird said stopping Cambage was the first of many things the Americans talked about during the break.
“Not letting her get deep,” Bird said was the priority. The U.S point guard added that the strategy was to jam Cambage when she was running the floor and prevent her from getting low-post position.
“She is a big girl, when she gets you sealed on her back that low, what are you going to do?” Bird said. “It’s almost impossible to stop her.”
And the U.S. rarely did in the first half.
The second half was a different story for Cambage.
“They shut us down” in the third, Cambage said. “I know I backed down in the third. I put a lot on me.”
Bird said the U.S. turned the game around with its depth.
“They’re not rookies,” Bird said of her first-time Olympic teammates. “These aren’t 21-year-old kids who have never played international basketball. Once again that is where our advantage lies.”
The Americans had cruised through their first six games winning by an average of 38 points before facing the No. 2 team in the world in the semifinals — a round earlier than they had met at the past three Olympics.
With the U.S trailing 56-55 in the third quarter and star Diana Taurasi sidelined with four fouls, Auriemma turned to his bench. The reserves responded, sparking the game-changing run.
Whalen started the burst by scoring the first six points and Seimone Augustus chipped in another four to help the Americans build a 65-59 lead at the end of the third quarter.
They also cranked up the defensive pressure; Australia shot just 4 of 18 from the field in the third.
“When we came in it was like … whatever is there take it,” Whalen said. “Be aggressive offensively and defensively and just come in and make plays.”
The U.S. extended its lead to 11 on Charles’ two free throws early in the fourth period and Australia could only get within nine the rest of the way. The Americans improved to 7-0 all-time in the Olympics against Australia.
Charles and Taurasi each scored 14 for the U.S. while Bird finished with 13 points.
The Americans have won the last four golds and 40 consecutive Olympic contests dating back to the bronze medal game in 1992. The top two teams in the world had met in the previous three gold medal games with the U.S. coming out on top. This was the first time they had played in the semifinals since 1996.
“I guess it is a little weird,” Taurasi said of meeting Australia before the gold was at stake. “We’ve done a good job of taking everything in stride. We treat each game like a gold medal game.”
Cambage kept Australia in the game for the first half. She made eight of her 12 shots to give the Australians a 47-43 lead at the break. It was the first time that the U.S. had trailed at the half in an Olympic contest since 2000 when Russia led the Americans by three.
“This was the first time at the half that we’ve been playing where I’ve been a little upset with them,” Auriemma said. “Everything we wanted to be in the first half Australia was.”
Cambage’s only shot in the second half was a wild 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down.
“They started playing zone and that threw us off in the third quarter,” she said.
Lauren Jackson finished with 14 points for Australia.
A gold medal is one of the only things lacking from Jackson’s impressive career. She’s won a world championship, two WNBA titles and is the Olympics all-time leading scorer. Yet she’s come up just short in her four Olympic appearances against the U.S.
The Australians have already had the two most memorable moments in women’s basketball at the Olympics. Belinda Snell hit a 50-foot heave to send a game into overtime and Liz Cambage had a dunk against Russia, which might have been the first in Olympic history.
For one half, they looked to be on the verge of another unforgettable moment — an upset of the favored Americans. Instead, they ran out of gas.
Australia came into the London Games off a disappointing fifth place finish at the 2010 world championship. The Australians are missing star guard Penny Taylor, who tore her anterior cruciate ligament in the Euro League finals in April. They lost a pool game to France — the first time they were beaten by a team other than the U.S. in the Olympics since 1996.