For a team that has won six straight gold medals and more than 50 consecutive games, playing from behind is unfamiliar and unexpected territory.
Yet, after the first quarter in all three games during pool play, the mighty U.S. women’s basketball team found itself in that very territory: trailing.
That changed on Wednesday as the U.S. jumped out to an early lead en route to a 79-55 rout of Australia in its quarterfinal matchup at the Tokyo Olympics. The fast start helped secure a spot in the Final Four as Team USA extended its winning streak to 53 games and put itself within two victories of a seventh straight gold medal.
The team’s Tokyo trend of slow starts came to an end during a 17-0 first quarter run that was capped when Diana Taurasi grabbed a rebound and tossed a downcourt outlet to A’ja Wilson for the easy layup in transition and a 21-6 lead.
Breanna Stewart had 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting in the first for a U.S. team that shot 53 percent in the opening quarter. Australia, which defeated the U.S. during a July exhibition after hitting 10 3-pointers, shot just 29 percent in the quarter while committing 10 turnovers.
Australia initially chipped into the U.S. lead at the start of the second, opening the quarter on a 7-2 run. Sue Bird answered with a 3 that sparked a 9-2 U.S. run to increase the advantage to 37-21.
Chelsea Gray later delivered a pretty bounce pass through traffic to Stewart, who converted a bank shot down low plus the foul for a 42-27 lead with two minutes left in the half. Stewart, who had 20 first-half points on 7-for-8 shooting, followed with a 3 to push the lead to 18. The U.S. went into the half up 48-27.
There was no let up by the U.S in the third as the lead reached 24 when A’ja Wilson’s bucket in transition off a feed from Bird made it 58-34 with 6:39 left in the quarter.
Brittney Griner then hit a pair of turnarounds in the post to increase the lead to 66-39 as the U.S. closed the quarter on an 8-0 run for a 68-39 advantage. The U.S. protected that lead in the fourth even while resting key players.
Stewart had a game-high 23 points on 8-for-10 shooting and five rebounds to lead the U.S., which shot 45 percent from the field. Griner added 15 points, eight rebounds, two blocks and two steals.
Gray finished with seven points and eight assists and Wilson added 10 points and four rebounds. Leilani Mitchell had 14 points to lead Australia, which shot just 30 percent, went 7-for-26 from deep and had 21 turnovers.
The U.S. advances to the semifinals to face Serbia, which defeated China 77-70 in the quarterfinals, on Friday at 12:40 a.m. ET.