Charles, Whalen ignite U.S. women

Diana Taurasi (12) reacts after scoring against Australia on Thursday as Lauren Jackson (15) and Belinda Snell look on. The United States beat Australia 86-73 in the semifinals.
Diana Taurasi (12) reacts after scoring against Australia on Thursday as Lauren Jackson (15) and Belinda Snell look on. The United States beat Australia 86-73 in the semifinals. Eric Gay/AP Photo

London - Now this was something new. The U.S. women's basketball team faced its first Olympic halftime deficit in 12 years Thursday 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.

U.S. coach Geno Auriemma turned to his Olympic rookies to lead the way.

The group - led by Tina Charles and Lindsay Whalen - pressured Australia into turnovers and bad shots, helping the U.S. reach the title game for the fifth straight time.

"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."

Australia didn't have a great night, but they had a great half.

Behind the inside play of 6-foot-8 Liz Cambage, the Australians shot 61 percent and led 47-43 at halftime. But with a chance at another gold medal on the line, an inspired U.S. squad regained the lead behind the play of the reserves, harrassing Australia into just 4 of 18 shooting from the field in the third quarter.

The Americans will France, an 81-64 semifinal winner over Russia, for the title. It will be the first time since 1996 that the Americans won't be facing Australia for the gold.

"We knew before that to win the gold you have to beat Australia whether it's in the semifinal or the finals," Auriemma said.

Australia went right at the U.S. with Cambage leading the way but the Americans' depth and pressure defense were the difference again.

The Australian's budding star scored 19 points in the first half, she was scoreless in the second half.

Sue Bird said stopping Cambage was the first of many things the Americans talked about during the break.

"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."

And the U.S. rarely did in the first half.

The second half was a different story for Cambage.

"They shut us down" in the third, Cambage said. "I know I backed down in the third. I put a lot on me."

Bird said the U.S. turned the game around with its depth.

"They're not rookies," Bird said of her first-time Olympic teammates. "These aren't 21-year-old kids who have never played international basketball. Once again that is where our advantage lies."

With the U.S trailing 56-55 in the third quarter and star Diana Taurasi sidelined with four fouls, Auriemma turned to his bench. The reserves responded, sparking the game-changing run.

Whalen started the burst by scoring the first six points and Seimone Augustus chipped in another four to help the Americans build a 65-59 lead at the end of the third quarter.

They also cranked up the defensive pressure; Australia shot just 4 of 18 from the field in the third.

"When we came in it was like ... whatever is there take it," Whalen said. "Be aggressive offensively and defensively and just come in and make plays."

The U.S. extended its lead to 11 on Charles' two free throws early in the fourth period and Australia could only get within nine the rest of the way. The Americans improved to 7-0 all-time in the Olympics against Australia.

Charles and Taurasi each scored 14 for the U.S. while Bird finished with 13 points.

Lauren Jackson finished with 14 points for Australia.

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