Tennessee Lady Vols Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen added to the victory. Stricklen ignited the team with a huge trey and snagged seven rebounds while Johnson added one point and one rebound.
Following a day off on Saturday, the U.S. will play for the gold medal against also unbeaten Taiwan (5-0) on Sunday, Aug. 21 at 9:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m. EDT). Taiwan edged out Sweden (3-2) 71-70 in overtime to advance to the gold medal game.
Australia and Sweden will face off Sunday at 7:00 p.m. (7 a.m. EDT) for the bronze medal.
“We played great,” said Bill Fennelly, USA World University Games Team and Iowa State University head coach. “Australia was an outstanding team, a big, physical team. Our team played the way a USA Basketball team should play in a semifinal, trying to get to a gold medal game.
"Elena was fantastic from start to finish. Skylar got us organized offensively and defensively, and I thought Lynetta Kizer gave us a great lift off of the bench when Nneka (Ogwumike) got in foul trouble. It was a huge team effort, and it's exciting for this team to know we have the chance to play for a gold medal. They had to earn it, and that’s the way it should be.”
As is expected whenever these two countries meet, at no matter what level, it’s a battle, and tonight was no different.
While the U.S. took an early lead, Australia was never far behind, and a 9-0 run to start the fourth quarter, with scoring contributions from four different players, helped the Americans distance themselves for good.
“I think we wore them down a little bit in the second half, and they were probably a little tired from running up and down with us because we really get out in transition,” said Delle Donne. “Also, we were really grabbing rebounds and limiting their second chances.”
With the U.S. holding a 53-46 edge heading into the final stanza, neither team was able to get anything to fall until Nnemkadi Ogwumike got a putback at 8:35, sparking a 9-0 streak of unanswered points that saw Peters drive to the hoop for a two, Delle Donne go in for a lay-in and Diggins convert a 3-point play.
With 6:40 to play in the contest, the U.S. finally was able to pull away from Australia, 62-46.
The Aussies didn’t bow out quietly, but they were never again able to cut it to single digits as the U.S. advanced to the gold medal contest.
“Throughout the tournament coach has always said our third quarter is our worst quarter, so I think we wanted to really pull away,” said Diggins, who also dished out four assists. “With us only being up by four points, we were very uncomfortable with that lead. We wanted to stretch it out and really try to push the first couple minutes of the second half to get us going.
"And then off the bench, we had great energy and intensity to help us maintain that lead. Luckily the time ran off the clock because they are a smart team, and they are very capable of coming back. We were just glad we were able to hold on.”
Australia got the first lead of the game, but it was short lived. With the score knotted at 6-6 after a pair of throws by Nneka Ogwumike at 7:09 in the first stanza, Delle Donne notched the game’s next five points, a jumper at the top of the key and a 3-pointer, giving her side a lead at 6:32 that it would never relinquish.
That also kick-started a 10-2 run by the red, white and blue, and at 4:16 the U.S. led 16-8. Australia answered back with a 9-4 spurt to cut the USA’s lead to 20-17 at the end of the first period.
The second quarter was a back-and-forth fight as neither team managed to string together more than four consecutive points, and at halftime the USA’s lead was four, 31-27.
Diggins and Delle Donne hit back-to-back buckets to start the second half, which were followed by a jumper by Devereaux Peters. With Australia on its heels, the American women looked to be starting to pull away as Shekinna Stricklen knocked down a three to cap the USA’s 9-0 run at 7:40.
The Australians wouldn’t back down easily, however. Capitalizing on a defensive lapse by the U.S., they put together an 11-3 run, and with 3:50 remaining in the quarter the gap was narrowed to five points, 43-38.
Seven seconds later, Natalie Novosel drove to the hoop, was fouled and converted on a three-point play and then came back down and netted a 3-pointer, giving the U.S. a double-digit margin, 49-38, with 3:11 to go in the quarter. Australia again fought back, and with 10 minutes remaining in the contest, clipped it to 53-46.
Neither team shot well, with the American women hitting 38.5 percent (30-78 FGs) of its tries and Australia shooting 37.1 percent (26-70 FGs) from the field. In a night when the USA’s shots weren’t falling, however, rebounding keyed the team’s victory as the squad outrebounded Australia 54-41, with 16 of them coming on the offensive end.
In addition to Delle Donne and Diggins, the USA was aided to victory by eight points from Peters and Chiney Ogwumike, Lynetta Kizer scored seven points and grabbed eight rebounds and Nneka Ogwumike also chipped in seven points.
Foul trouble limited Nneka Ogwumike’s minutes in the first half as she was whistled for her second foul at 6:41 in the first stanza and did not reenter the game until the second half. She and her sister Chiney were called for four each.
Australia also was hampered by fouls as 2010 Australia World Championship Team member Abby Bishop fouled out of the game and three of her side’s top players had four apiece by the end of the night.
“Bless the officials because we were both in there fighting,” said Chiney Ogwumike. “Australia plays a different style of basketball than us, and some of the things they do, like the way they set screens and they way the cut through the paint, are different than what we have seen.
"We struggled with that, and they struggled with the way we played inside and our post presence. Luckily, none of us fouled out, and I think that is a testament to our poise.”
Australia, which lists five members of its senior national team pool on its World University Games roster, was led by two who are not members of the Opals roster as Nicole Hunt scored 18 points and Cayla Francis finished with 15 points and a game-best 14 rebounds.
Listing a roster that averages 5’9”, the USA’s gold medal opponent, Taiwan, will be quite different than Australia.
“We are going to go from the biggest, strongest team we’ve seen to the shortest, quickest team we’ve seen,” said Fennelly.
“It will be an interesting game, and we have one day to prepare. There are only two teams that have a chance to win a gold medal, and we are one of them.”