The United States women's basketball team has been every bit as good as advertised in London and appears to be well on its way to yet another gold medal. In order to play for the gold, however, the Americans must first navigate past the semifinal round.
In order to do that, Team USA will meet a familiar opponent in the form of Australia. The United States and Australia traditionally face each other in the final, but the Aussies have faltered a bit this year and may face elimination a round earlier than usual.
In the other semifinal, surprising France will meet Russia for a chance to play the United States in all likelihood for gold. Here are three key players to keep an eye on during the women's basketball semifinal round.
Australia vs. USA - Thursday, Aug. 9 at 12 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network
Russia vs. France - Thursday, Aug. 9 at 4 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network
Diana Taurasi (USA)
The United States has a star-studded team to say the least, but if there is one player that is more capable of taking over a game than the others, it's Diana Taurasi. She is one of the most prolific scorers in the history of women's basketball and is currently tied with Angel McCaughtry as the squad's leading scorer at 12.7 points per game. Taurasi has been a bit streaky at times, but if things are tight late in the game, she is the one who head coach Geno Auriemma will lean on.
Team USA believes in more of a scoring by committee approach, but as the men's team has shown, there are times where a dominant force has to emerge. LeBron James is that guy for them, and Taurasi is the female equivalent. I would expect the United States to win fairly comfortably against Australia, but Taurasi will be the go-to player if things get iffy.
Lauren Jackson (Australia)
The biggest reason, literally and figuratively, why Australia has been able to remain competitive against the United States for the past few Olympics is the presence of center Lauren Jackson. At 6'6", Jackson towers over essentially every other player on the court and she uses that size to her advantage. She is an extremely effective offensive player as evidenced by her team-leading 14.7 points per game, but she is also a game changer on the defensive end thanks to her penchant for hitting the boards and blocking shots.
Team USA has some quality interior players in its own right such as Sylvia Fowles and Tina Charles, so the Aussies don't have as big of an advantage in that regard as usual, but Jackson is still a force to be reckoned with. There is no doubt that Australia is facing an uphill battle, but if they are going to have any shot at an upset, then Jackson has to carry the load. When she is playing well, it opens up space for all of her teammates and makes the whole team better.
Becky Hammon (Russia)
Russia is in a great spot as it is one win away from playing for a gold medal, but an American player will likely have the biggest say in whether or not that happens. Becky Hammon is an American-born guard, but she became a naturalized Russian citizen in 2008 as she plays her professional ball in Russia when the WNBA is out of season. Hammon is Russia's top player and has played as such during the Olympics with averages of 10.8 points and nearly four assists per game.
She will have a tough task ahead of her against an upstart French team. France is undefeated and already has a win over Russia. It also has the look of a team of destiny since it has narrowly averted several disasters and won a bunch of close games. Hammon is the most skilled and experienced player in this semifinal, though, so if she straps the Russian team to her back, they have a real chance to advance to the final.
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