Sue Bird's U.S. team gets past Lauren Jackson and Australia
Bird finished with 13 points. Lauren Jackson finished with 14 points for Australia.
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.
Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm finished with 13 points.
WNBA teammate 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.
Bird said stopping 6-foot-8 Liz Cambage was the first of many things the Americans stressed.
"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."
Behind the inside play of Cambage, the Australians shot 61 percent and led 47-43 at halftime. But an inspired U.S. squad regained the lead behind the play of the reserves, harassing Australia into just 4 of 18 shooting from the field in the third quarter.
"There was really no panic," Bird said. "We took what you could call Australia's best shot, and we were only down four. We took that as a positive. Nobody had their head hanging low."
U.S. coach Geno Auriemma turned to his Olympic rookies to lead the way. Tina Charles and Lindsay Whalen pressured Australia into turnovers and bad shots.
"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."
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.