Five-time defending champion United States reached the Rio Olympic women’s basketball semi-finals with a 47th consecutive Games victory Tuesday while Australia’s run of five consecutive Olympic medals ended in tears.
Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore each scored 19 points as the Americans routed Japan 110-64, advancing to a Thursday matchup against the later Canada-France winner in quest of an expected sixth gold in a row.
“It means everything that the country expects that,” US center Brittney Griner said. “And we expect it from ourselves.”
Australia’s Opals left an Olympics empty handed for the first time since 1992 after Serbia delivered a shock 73-71 upset. The reigning European champions face Spain in the other semi-final.
“I know we can take it one step further because I know we have it in our hearts,” Serbia’s Sonja Petrovic said.
“We played for 40 minutes. We finally played like it was now or never.”
An 18-4 run over the end of the first half and start of the second lifted the US comfortably ahead of Japan until the end, the Asian squad lurking within 48-46 until then.
“They were making us work. They were making us uncomfortable,” Taurasi said.
“I don’t think we dealt with that in the best way. We used our athleticism and that helped us pull away.
“I’m proud of this team. We didn’t panic. We just kept grinding it out and making it work for us.”
Taurasi had six points in the key span and Moore five.
“Responding that way was good to see,” said Moore. “That’s exactly what we needed.”
The Americans are 87-1 from 1996 in Olympic and world championship games. They haven’t lost in the Olympics since falling to the Commonwealth of Independent States in a 1992 semi-final.
Ana Dabovic scored 24 points, Jelena Milovanovic added 17 and Petrovic had 13 points to spark the Serbians, the only team with a losing record in the medal playoffs.
“When you look at the quality in the roster or the names on the paper, they have the better team,” Petrovic said.
“When you look at the energy and heart, that’s where we were able to win out.”
It was a gut-wrenching end for the Aussies, who went unbeaten in the group stage and had taken silver medals in 2000, 2004 and 2008 and bronze in 1996 and 2012.
“It’s disappointing,” Aussie coach Brendan Joyce said.
“We were confident we would get through to the medal rounds so being knocked out is really difficult to swallow.”
The Serbs were dancing in celebration at midcourt after the final horn.
“This was the game of our lives,” Milovanovic said.
“We showed we’re not European champions by accident,” Dabovic said.
Spain edged Turkey 64-62 on Anna Cruz’s basket at the final buzzer, reaching a first Olympic semi-final after Cruz scored eight of her 14 points in a closing 12-2 run.
“This is about history now,” Spain captain Laia Palau said. “Now we’re allowed to dream big.”
– Opals’ four ‘haunted’ years –
Australia’s 26 turnovers led to 27 Serbian points while the winners made only nine turnovers to set up eight Aussie points.
“It was definitely sloppy moments for us that will haunt us for the next four years,” Aussie guard Erin Phillips said.
Elizabeth Cambage scored 29 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for the Opals but was in tears after being unable to deflect a desperate toss into the hoop at the buzzer.
Down 60-52 with 3:45 to play, Spain went for broke.
“We just said, ‘We have nothing to lose here, so we need to be brave,'” Palau said. “We just got this attitude and suddenly — boom, boom, boom — we were close and in that moment we changed things our way.”
Lara Sanders, who had a game-high 22 points, pulled Turkey level with four seconds remaining only to see Cruz hit the game-winning buzzer beater.
“You can’t be nothing but disappointed,” Sanders said. “I’m heartbroken.”