As the London Games wind down, just four teams remain in the women's basketball competition: United States, Australia, Russia and France. Australia had only one loss in the entire Olympic Games, given to them by undefeated France. Russia is the weak link of the four with two losses, one from France and one from Australia. The U.S. has also been fantastic once again, not dropping or even coming close to dropping a game.
So far the U.S. has once again looked like the team that has won the last three Olympic gold medals. Their undefeated run has included dominant victories like the one over Angola and overall complete performances from the starters and bench alike.
France, also undefeated, has not looked as smooth as the U.S. but has really been the surprise of the tournament. Although they needed overtime to beat both Australia and Great Britain, France has shown the ability to get the job done.
Had Russia not been placed in the U.S. pool, they likely would have gone undefeated as well. They have played solid throughout the Olympic Games and have shown that their bronze medal from Beijing was not a fluke. However, they will be looking for more than that in London.
Australia has been to the gold-medal game as many times as the U.S. has in the past three years. The difference is that they have three silvers while the U.S. has three golds. In London, they have shown that they could contend for the gold but a loss to France will make it a little more difficult as Lauren Jackson and company will have to face the Americans a round earlier than usual.
With two exciting semis sure to occur, here are the top five things to watch for in the women's basketball semis:
1. United States to Meet Australia for Fourth Year in a Row
It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that once again the U.S. will face Australia for a shot at the gold medal. To anyone who has followed women's international basketball over the past 15 or so years would know that these are by far the two best teams in the world.
It is for this reason however, that the matchup does come as a surprise because for the first time in the past three Olympic Games, the loser of this matchup will not be given a silver medal.
This should make for an interesting dynamic and should give Australia determination to win, now more than ever. The U.S. also has this determination to win as they are looking to defend their 37-game Olympic winning streak, a truly remarkable feat in its own right.
2. Don't Underestimate the France and Russia Semifinal
For good reason, most of the attention in the semifinals has gone to the monster matchup of the U.S. against Australia. The problem with that however, is that if pool play is any indication, there will be an equally compelling and competitive match in the other semi between France and Russia.
France has found ways to win their matches in these London Olympic Games. It seems that they have played best in late-game situations and that they know how to rebound when their backs are against the wall. Their biggest win came against Australia, where they found an extra gear to beat the defending silver medalists.
Russia has had a bit of an inconsistent run at defending their bronze medal. They started with a few close games, but like France managed to pull out wins. It wasn't until their last two that they lost back-to-back matches against two of the top teams in the tournament.
It may not be the most glamorous semi, but with the way both of these teams have played, it will be one that shouldn't be underestimated. France is the favorite to win, but led by Becky Hammon, Russia has the talent to pull out the win.
3. Is the U.S. Really Perfect?
For the entirety of these Olympic Games, people have been looking for just one flaw, just one chink in the gold medal armor of the U.S. team. Search as they did, but from how the Americans have played, no flaw was found and you begin to wonder if the U.S. team does in fact have one.
In these Olympic Games they have never won a game by less than 25 points. They entered London on an international winning streak and have lengthened it to an incredible 37 straight games without a loss. On top of that they have won the last four gold medals and are in no immediate danger of losing their bid for a fifth.
Did I mention the team has only been together two weeks, has only had a handful of practices and just five games as a team before the Olympic Games began?
Their dominance stems from the fact that the U.S. has a respectable and talented women's professional basketball league. Most countries can't even field a team with players even half of the quality of the U.S. All-Stars. In fact the teams that succeed the most are the ones that field players that played collegiate-level ball in the United States.
So to answer the question I posed, if the U.S. isn't perfect and in a perfectly good position to defend their title once again, they certainly are the closest you can get to perfection.
4. Lauren Jackson's Impact for Australia
If the Aussies stand a chance at upsetting the U.S., the majority of points will have to go through Kristi Harrower into the hands of Lauren Jackson.
Australia's offense runs through these two players and what they have to do to win is really utilize Jackson's speed, scoring ability and height advantage against some of the U.S. players.
Jackson just broke her way into the record books, becoming the all-time leading scorer in the Olympic Games. She is looking for something more however, something that has eluded her in three attempts at it—an Olympic gold medal.
She is Australia's most important player and her impact really will make or break any hope the Aussies may have of getting to the gold medal final for the fourth year in a row.
5. Is France a Real Contender to Win a Gold Medal?
Just like Australia, if France hopes to get a chance to pull off one of the greatest upsets Olympic basketball has ever seen, they will have to put forth a strong showing in their semifinal against Russia.
Russia is obviously not a team that can be overlooked, but if France is as good as people have come to believe they are, then they really should have no trouble dispatching the Russians.
Where France had an advantage in their first matchup was in the post. They have two very good post players that made it difficult for Russia's defense to guard and as a result France was able to pretty easily outscore their opponent.
If they want to show that they have a chance to beat the U.S., France's road to the gold has to start with a good performance against Russia.