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Oct. 4, 2014

Story and photo courtesy USA Basketball

ISTANBUL, Turkey – The 2014 USA Basketball Women’s World Championship Team (5-0) earned its place in the gold medal game of the 2014 FIBA World Championship with an 82-70 win over Australia (4-1) on Saturday night at Fenerbahce Arena in Istanbul, Turkey. The USA limited Australia, which had come into the game shooting 43.1 percent, to 34.2 percent shooting from the field and finished with a 49-31 rebounding advantage.

The USA, defending World Championship gold medalists, will meet Spain (5-0), which defeated host Turkey (4-1) 66-56, in the gold medal game on Oct. 5 (2:15 p.m. EDT, NBA TV and ESPN2). Turkey and Australia will play for the bronze medal (12 p.m. EDT).

The USA will be playing for its ninth World Championship gold medal, while Spain, which claimed bronze in 2010 to mark its only medal in World Championship history, is assured of its best finish at the event.

“We knew going into the game that it was going to be hard, no matter what the final score was going to be,” said USA head coach Geno Auriemma (University of Connecticut), who now owns an overall 73-9 record coaching USA Basketball teams, including a 56-9 slate as head coach. “We knew that we would feel it after the game; that it was going to be a hard-fought, very physical kind of a game. After that first quarter, we did a really, really good job of keeping Australia off the free throw line. I think they were averaging taking 27 free throws a game coming into this game. And I think they attempted 15. They were shooting 27 of them, so we wanted to concentrate a lot on keeping them off the free throw line.”

Tina Charles (New York Liberty) led the USA, which shot 50.8 percent from the field, with 18 points and nine rebounds, and Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx) had 16 points, five assists and five rebounds. Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury) rounded out the USA’s double-digit scorers with 11 points.

“We knew it was going to be tough,” Charles said. “We haven’t taken anything for granted since the start of this tournament. Australia played aggressive, especially without Elizabeth Cambage, who is really their centerpiece. We just answered, we just responded really well.”

After two tied scores to start the game, the lead changed hands five times, and the USA trailed 16-13 at 3:14, before closing the first quarter with a 6-0 run to lead 19-16 at the first break. Moore had seven points in the first 10 minutes, and the U.S. defense held Australia to just 21.1 percent from the field (4-19 FGs).

Committing seven of its eventual 20 fouls in the first quarter, the USA helped Australia to shoot 8-of-10 from the line in the first 10 minutes, but only put Australia on the line for five more tries after that.

“I thought we came out pretty well with our defensive focus and moved the ball, putting people in positions to score,” Moore said. “I’m not sure how many assists we had, but I felt like we were finding each other. In the second half, we did a much better job of keeping them off the free throw line. We gave up a few too many 3s, more than we would have liked, and we had a few moments where we gave up some offensive boards. But overall, I thought we dominated defensively with our pressure and limiting them to one shot.”

That three-point, first-quarter margin remained at 5:23 in the second quarter after Australia sank a free throw to make it 26-23. The USA then launched an 8-0 run that included six points from Charles. Australia sank a 3-pointer at 3:29 to end the streak and bring the score to 34-26, but the USA closed with an 8-4 advantage to lead 42-30 at halftime.

At the midway point, the USA had a 30-13 rebounding advantage, and while the USA had committed 11 turnovers, compared to Australia’s five, its defense had held Australia to just 28.6 percent (10-35 FGs) from the field, while it shot 45.6 percent (15-33 FGs).

Australia matched every one of the USA’s eight scores out of the halftime break, but after two 3-pointers from the Aussies and a couple of missed free throws by the USA, the lead was eight points, 52-44 at 5:06. After another U.S. missed free throw and a 3-pointer from Australia, the lead had dwindled to six points, 55-49 at 2:47 when the USA called its first timeout. Remaining on the attack out of the break, the USA shot its way back from the free throw line to a 59-49 lead at 57.7. Australia’s Leilani Mitchell sank her third 3-pointer in the quarter at 45.0 and Seimone Augustus (Minnesota Lynx) scored at 27.4 to head into the fourth quarter with the USA leading 61-52. Overall, Australia outscored the USA 22-19 in the third period.

Australia again cut it to six points, 61-55, with a 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter, but Taurasi and Charles scored before the teams traded baskets and Australia called a timeout at 7:38 with the USA leading 67-57. The USA scored nine unanswered points out of the huddle, while Australia missed its one shot attempt and committed three turnovers before calling another timeout at 5:30 with the USA leading 74-57.

Australia closed with a 13-8 run over the last five minutes, but the effort was too little, too late as the USA outscored Australia 21-18 in the final period to earn the 82-70 win.

“I’m really proud of our team tonight,” said Nnemkadi Ogwumike (Los Angeles Sparks). “Australia’s a great, great, great team. They’re very physical. I think they tested us in a lot of ways on both ends of the court. I think we did a great job of containing them and capitalizing and doing what we do best on both ends. It was a physical game and it’s going to prepare us for the finals.”

Not only did the U.S. defense stifle Australia’s shooting percentage, it held a team that had been averaging 81.8 points, 44.5 rebounds and 19.3 assists per game to just 70 points, 31 rebounds and 14 assists.

Erin Phillips led Australia with 19 points.

“They are playing really well,” said Lindsay Whalen (Minnesota Lynx) of Spain. “We’ve seen a bunch of their games, and tonight they came into a really tough environment and got the win. They got a lot of people playing really well, on a really high level. So, we know we have our work cut out for us, and we are ready for the challenge.”

In the fifth-eighth classification finals also played today, China (3-3) beat Serbia (3-3) 85-69, and Canada (3-3) got a 55-40 win over France (3-3). On Oct. 5, Canada will play China for fifth place, and France will meet Serbia for seventh place.

Auriemma is being assisted on the sideline by DePaul University head coach Doug Bruno, Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve and University of South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley; while University of Hartford head coach Jennifer Rizzotti serves as an advance scout and court coach for the 2014 USA squad.

The USA owns a record eight gold medals, one silver medal and two bronze medals in FIBA World Championship play, while compiling an all-time 102-21 record at the event. In 2010, the most recent World Championship, the U.S. finished with a perfect 9-0 record and the gold medal.

STAT NOTES: The USA beat Australia in exhibition play 72-66 on Sept. 21 in Paris, France.