by Doug Feinberg ap basketball writer
Saitama, Japan – Brenna Stewart scored 20 of her 23 points in the first half as the US beat Australia 79-55 in the Olympic quarterfinals on Wednesday (Tuesday night PT).
The Americans will take on Serbia in the semi-finals on Friday and look to advance in their seventh consecutive gold medal game. Serbian players, who won bronze at the 2016 Rio Games, defeated China 77-70 in the quarterfinals.
For the first time since getting together almost three weeks ago, America seemed like the dominant team that has won the past six gold medals and 53 consecutive games at the 1992 Barcelona Games Olympics.
During pool-play games, America got off to a slow start, trailing after the first quarter in each competition. Stewart made sure that would not happen against Australia. After trailing 5-2, she scored seven points in a row and started a 19-1 run. The Americans led 26-12 after the opening quarter as Australia had 10 turnovers in the period.
Australia were able to reach within nine in the second quarter, before the US closed the half with 20-8 runs to lead 48-27.
The Opals never threatened in the second half as the lead ballooned behind Brittany Griner, who scored 10 of her 15 points in the third quarter.
The US and Australia are ranked No. 1 and 2 in the world and usually meet later in the Olympics, but the Aussies barely qualified for the quarters. They needed at least a 24 point win over Puerto Rico to advance to the last game of pool play.
Opel never beat the US at the Olympics, losing to the Americans in the gold medal games in 2000, ’04 and ’08. The Australians also lost to the US in the semi-finals of the 1996 and 2012 Olympics.
They were looking for a different result in Japan. The teams played an exhibition game in Las Vegas last month and Australia pulled off a disappointing victory. Diana Taurasi did not play that game as she was recovering from a hip injury.
Leilani Mitchell scored 14 points to lead Australia, which will host the World Championships in Sydney next year.
Australia’s Stephanie Talbot, who plays for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, after missing the team’s last game against Puerto Rico. He played only a few minutes against China after missing the opener against Belgium due to a leg injury. He tested it before the US game and played 16 minutes, scoring four points.
cheer them up
The Australian men’s team will face the American men in the semi-finals on Thursday. Most of the US men’s team arrived just before halftime to watch the women’s team play.
There is much more to come on this story.