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Breanna Stewart and U.S. reassert their Olympic dominance in win over Australia

USA forward Breanna Stewart (10) dives over Team Australia power forward Alanna Smith (11) for a loose ball
USA forward Breanna Stewart (10) dives over Team Australia power forward Alanna Smith (11) for a loose ball during second half action.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

In its final game before heading to Japan, the U.S. women’s basketball team squandered a double-digit lead against the Australian national team before ultimately losing. The game came on the heels of a defeat to the WNBA All-Stars, the first time the U.S. women had lost back-to-back exhibitions since 2011.

After that loss, a frustrated Breanna Stewart said the team had fallen short of the high standard women have set in their program for generations. And the losses, combined with the unknown aftereffects of a physically and mentally draining 2020 WNBA season, made it seem like the Americans were vulnerable for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Well, after Wednesday’s 79-55 win, it might be time to recalibrate all that.

Sydney McLaughlin wins gold for the U.S. in the women’s 400-meter hurdles at the Tokyo Olympics. U.S. teammate Dalilah Muhammad is second.

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“We wanted to be our best,” Stewart said. “… We handled business today but we know there’s more business to be handled Friday.”

Stewart was fantastic, having already cooked the Aussie defense by the time members of the U.S. men’s team made it to their seats. She scored 20 of her 23 points in the first, the Americans’ overall dominance keeping her away from Lisa Leslie’s scoring record in the 1996 Games when she had 35 against the Japanese.

“She’s OK,” Diana Taurasi deadpanned when asked about Stewart.

Against the Australians, it was the full complement of her skills, the inside-outside game, the ball-handling and passing and the aggressiveness that was too much to handle, knocking the Opals out in the quarterfinals for the second-straight Games after medals in five straight Olympics before 2016.

U.S. forward Brittney Griner flexes after making a basket against Australia on Wednesday.
(Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press)

“We faced a very focused and aggressive USA team today,” Australian coach Sandy Brondello said.

Following the two losses in exhibition play, the Americans didn’t have some impassioned team meeting, some moment in which panic set in and needed to be extinguished. Instead, Las Vegas star Chelsea Gray said, they were pragmatic.

“For everyone, it’s been attention to detail,” she said. “We were able to get some practice time, able to get to know each other more. It’s do or die time.”

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More than any other time in this Olympic cycle, they played like it.

“The losing gets their attention, doesn’t it?” Brondello said.

Simone Biles, who withdrew from most events on her Olympic schedule, made a remarkable return Tuesday, winning bronze in the balance beam final.

The U.S. defense swarmed against the Australians, forcing them into 15 first-half turnovers. The Americans weren’t much tighter with the basketball, kicking it around the court with almost as much frequency as the Opals. The two teams combined for 39 turnovers Wednesday, but the talent gap was too lopsided for it to matter, especially with Stewart leading the way.

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The Americans will play Serbia in the semifinals Friday.

“We played with considerable desire to advance,” U.S. coach Dawn Staley said. “And it was just contagious.”

It’s good news, the U.S. catching the only thing you want to get at these Olympics just at the right time.


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