Breanna Stewart, Team USA rout Australia to advance to Olympic women’s basketball semifinals

SAITAMA, Japan — The U.S. women’s basketball team wasn’t interested in any drama Wednesday, playing with an all-business approach and not allowing Australia to even think about an upset in a 79-55 Olympic quarterfinal win.

Last month in Las Vegas, the Aussies stunned the Americans in an exhibition game, making a huge second-half comeback to pull out what looked like a statement victory. And after the U.S. women seemed a little unfocused at times during their pool-play games in Japan, there was a hint that this game could be interesting.

It was not.

Breanna Stewart played the finest Olympic game of her career, scoring 20 of her 23 points in the first half to help the Americans leap out to a huge lead and never waver. Their Olympic winning streak is now at 53 games; next up they play Serbia, which upset China, in Friday’s semifinals.

Breanna Stewart scored 20 of her 23 points in the first half as Team USA leaped out to a huge lead on its way to beating Australia 79-55. AP Photo/Eric Gay

Stewart had her whole game working: midrange pull-ups, running the floor and spotting up for 3-pointers as she made 7-of-8 shots in the first half and handed out two assists. She was everywhere over those first 20 minutes, including on defense, where she had five rebounds, two steals and a vicious blocked shot.

“Knowing this was the knockout stage, we wanted to be our best,” Stewart said. “I’m just trying to make the right play, I’m just doing what I’m supposed to do and do my job, and today the shots went in.”

It was exactly the kind of tone-setting performance the team needed, making it clear it was time to play like it was the knockout round. Stewart’s defensive energy fed her teammates, who were active on defense and totally unnerved the Opals.

“It was a very focused and aggressive U.S. team today,” said Australia coach Sandy Brondello, who also coaches the Phoenix Mercury. “We like to say [with the Mercury], ‘We have Diana Taurasi and you don’t.’ Well, the U.S. can say ‘We have Breanna Stewart and you don’t.'”

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Australia, which entered the tournament as the No. 2-ranked team in the world behind Team USA, turned the ball over 15 times in the first half alone. The U.S., which had seven steals in the first half, pushed the early lead to 21 points and broke the Aussies’ spirit.

In the second half, USA center Brittney Griner went to work. Australia was missing star center Liz Cambage, who withdrew from the team in July citing anxiety issues after an incident in an exhibition game against Nigeria, and Griner had an advantage.

Griner scored 10 of her 15 points in the third quarter to make sure there was no second-half rally like in the previous meeting.

All in all, it was the team’s strongest performance of the Olympics as veterans Sue Bird and Taurasi, who combined for 13 points and nine assists, pulled to two wins from their record fifth gold medals.

“I thought we came out and played inspired basketball,” U.S. coach Dawn Staley said. “We played with an incredible desire to advance. I was truly proud of our effort and truly proud of the performance.”

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