Fans of women's Olympic basketball have grown accustomed to seeing the United States and Australia duking it out in big games, but things are a bit different in London. Rather than meeting in the gold-medal match, the Americans and Aussies will play on Thursday in the semifinals for the right to play for gold on Saturday.
Australia has given Team USA some scares in the past, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see them hang around. The United States has clearly been the better team in these Olympics, however, so as long as the Americans play the game that they are capable of playing, the odds are very much in their favor to move on to the finals yet again.
Here are the three biggest keys that will lead to a Team USA victory if executed correctly and effectively on Thursday.
Push the Pace
Australia is normally a team that doesn't mind running the floor and putting pressure on the opposing defense, but with star scorer Penny Taylor unable to participate in London due to injury, the Aussies' transition game has really suffered. Australia can still do it to some degree, but there is no question that the Americans have a huge edge in that regard.
Team USA has many of the world's most explosive and athletic female players and it needs to use that to its advantage. Point guard Sue Bird is the catalyst due to her speed, vision and passing ability, while the likes of Candace Parker, Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore and others are more than capable of finishing.
It stands to reason that Australia will do everything in its power to slow the game to a crawl in order to keep things close, but the United States needs to take the initiative and ensure that this game is something of a track meet.
Keep Lauren Jackson In Check
If there is one factor that ensures that Australia is still a dangerous team, that factor is center Lauren Jackson.
At the age of 31, Jackson may be exiting her prime years, but she is still one of the top players in the women's game. She is averaging nearly 15 points per game in London and will be Australia's go-to player against the Americans.
What Team USA needs to do, though, is decide that it will force everyone other than Jackson to try to beat it.
That may sound like a dangerous game, but Australia's perimeter game is lacking without Taylor, and I'm not sure if they can consistently hit open or semi-open looks. Jackson is the one player on Australia's roster that is capable of completely taking over a game, and she shouldn't be given the opportunity to do that.
The United States has a couple high-quality bigs in its own right, as Sylvia Fowles and Tina Charles patrol the paint. Both of them will have to be stout defensively in order to ensure that Jackson doesn't dictate things for Australia.
Play Pressure Defense
As great of a team as the United States is offensively, strong defense is its true hallmark.
Team USA has been able to take advantage of inferior competition thus far by pressuring the ball-handler and forcing turnovers. Tamika Catchings, Swin Cash, Candace Parker and several others are elite, on-ball defenders who make life miserable for the opposition. Australia's weakness obviously resides in the backcourt, so pressure defense will be a major key in this game.
Australia is going to do everything it can in order to get the ball to Jackson inside, but the United States can prevent that by pestering the Australian guards, forcing turnovers and getting in transition that way. In fact, the United States can execute their other keys by proxy as long as their perimeter defense is pesky and effective.
As much as scoring points matters, success in basketball often begins on the defensive end, so if the United States excels in that area, then Jackson will have a tough game and fast breaks will develop as well.
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