If the Olympic gold-medal game is anything like this morning’s Australia-U.S. clash for gold in the FIBA Diamond Ball Tournament, we are in for a real treat. Even in what was technically an exhibition game, both teams played to win and the outcome came down to the final minutes as the U.S. women held on for a hard-fought 71-67 victory over the Australian Defence Force Opals to win the Diamond Ball Tournament. Here’s FIBA.com’s recap as well as one from USABasketball.com.
The USA led in the early going, but the game was tight throughout the second half. With 4:27 to play, two Laura Summerton free throws made it a two-point game at 67-65. From there, the U.S. women clamped down on defense, allowing just one basket over seven possessions the rest of the game. That score by Penny Taylor answered a Lisa Leslie on the bucket end to keep it a two-point game, but Tina Thompson’s midrange score made it a two-possession game with 1:09 to play. On the subsequent possession, the U.S. forced the Opals into a shot-clock violation after an errant attempt from downtown by Kristi Harrower. Harrower had the ball stolen with 10 seconds left and that was the game as the U.S. women dribbled out the clock.
“The top level athlete is so competitive, and they have so much pride, that it wouldn’t matter if they were playing for marbles,” USA Head Coach Anne Donovan said after the game. “I think they’d go just as hard. This was great to see, and it was great preparation. Absolutely the best preparation we could have going into next week.”
Storm point guard Sue Bird played 30 minutes for the U.S., using a legitimate rotation. Bird scored 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting and had only one turnover in that span. The stingy international scorekeeping on assists has limited Bird’s numbers in this tournament (she had one today), but Bird has done a terrific job of taking care of the basketball and added two steals. The USA also got strong production from the L.A. Sparks duo of Lisa Leslie (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Candace Parker (12 and eight).
The big thing for the U.S. was defense, as the team held an extremely potent Opals attack to 35.8 percent from the field and forced 18 turnovers. While Taylor scored 19 points and the Storm’s Lauren Jackson had 16 on 6-of-13 shooting with eight boards, the rest of the Aussie lineup struggled. Suzy Batkovic, Kristi Harrower and Belinda Snell combined to miss 22 of their 27 shot attempts. The defense has to be a very encouraging sign for Donovan and the U.S.; the gameplan was very similar to how the USA won gold in Athens, something they were unable to repeat in the 2006 World Championships.
“Tonight was a tough one,” Bird said. “Australia is a very very good team and we were fortunate to pull it out. We’ve only had five, six practices together, this was our third game as a unit and we’ve gotten better every game. That’s a good sign. We still have eight more to go but as long as we continue to get better, get after it out there and work towards our talent, I think we’ll be okay.”
With China claiming Bronze and Russia rallying to finish fifth, the Diamond Ball Tournament wrapped up with awards. Jackson was named Tournament MVP and was joined on the All-Touranment team by Bird as well as Candace Parker and Diana Taurasi from the U.S. and China’s Sui Feifei.