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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Strong second half lifts U.S. into gold medal game

Australia gave the United States everything it could handle - for a half because the U.S. stepped up defensively and wore down the Opals with its superior depth en route to a 86-73 win in the Olympic semifinals.
Former UConn star Tina Charles led the U.S. with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Former Huskies Diana Taurasi (14 points despite dealing with foul trouble) and Sue Bird (13 points) also scored in double figures as the four-time defending champion advances to Saturday's gold-medal game to face France, which posted an impressive 81-64 win over Russia.

Maya Moore, one of four former UConn stars in the starting lineup, added nine points and three assists.

Former Connecticut Sun guard Lindsay Whalen came off the bench to score six straight points during a third-quarter run which allowed the U.S. to take back control of the game. Seimone Augustus and Candace Parker were other reserves who played key roles in the second half.

Tamika Catchings, the only non-UConn product in the starting lineup, finished with seven points and seven rebounds and provided some hustle plays in the first half to keep Australia from getting up by more than seven points.

Liz Cambage scored all 19 of her points in the first half while Lauren Jackson finished with 14 and 17 rebounds for Australia which has been eliminated from the Olympics for the fourth straight time by the United States.

Here are quotes from U.S. and UConn coach Geno Auriemma and former Huskies Sue Bird, Tina Charles, Asjha Jones, Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi courtesy of USA Basketball.

I thought the game was played exactly the we thought it was going to be played terms of the intensity level and physical level of the game and how hard both teams were going to compete. We have played a lot of basketball in the last month and I don’t think anyone has played better against us then Australia did in the first half. That was an impressive display of basketball and we had no answer for that. It was incredible what they did to us. I really have a lot of admiration for them and tremendous amount of respect for them and their coaching staff. I am really proud of the way we responded in the second half, how we came back and did some things that USA Basketball is known for. I am really proud of my players
On Liz Cambage:
She is not even the same player we saw during the 2010 World Championships. She was good but she was not like this. The amount of progress she has made in two short years is quite remarkable for someone that young. She is pretty amazing.
On Maya Moore:
Maya is the youngest players on our team by a lot and this is her first experience at the Olympics and she kind of played the way she did when she was freshman at Connecticut. Every time she touched it, she shot it because then you really don’t have to know what to do because you are just shooting. Today she did that and it helped us and it hurt us. Other players reminded her that because she was so hyped up and wanted to play so well. Maya made Maya plays today, a couple of defensive plays, and the strip she got at the high post. When you watch Maya play you have to admire how hard she competes on every possession and that is probably why everywhere she goes there are championships that follow her around because there is just something about her that leads to winning. Hopefully she has one more win in her on Saturday.
On this game being looked at as a Gold Medal Game:
Everybody on the outside always talks about the US and Australia as if we are the only two teams in the tournament that are any good. That is certainly not the case. We knew coming into the tournament that at some point if you want to win the Olympic gold medal that you have to beat Australia. We knew that and whether you have to beat them in the semifinals or the final, it doesn’t matter you still have to beat them. The gold medal game is Saturday night. Hopefully our players don’t think this was the gold medal game because it was the semifinal game. To Australia’s credit and not a lot of people are talking about it but they are missing a great player. You have no idea what Penny Taylor brings to that team and the difference that she makes on that team. For them to be in a position where they were minus a player that I respect so much and think is a great player, I think that says a lot about them.
On the performance of Lindsay Whalen:
We talked about that in the locker room after the game. You know, we’ve got some players sitting on the bench that are pretty good players and they’re not great at everything, but they’re pretty good at a couple things. When Lindsay (Whalen) and Seimone (Augustus) both came off the bench, they did exactly what they are good at. Lindsay’s the kind of player that probably doesn’t get a whole lot of recognition. Sue (Bird) is one of the best scorers in the world and so is Diana (Taurasi), and Lindsay just kind of was there. But this whole tournament, she’s been great and today – more so today in that second half, because we really needed to go on a little bit of a run and it looked like she made three straight baskets. That’s Lindsay.
On halftime locker room commentary:
You know, that’s kind of a USA thing and even in college. Coaches generally don’t go into the locker room until there’s about 10 minutes left or at some point, so you hope you have people in the locker room setting some kind of tone for what just happened and what’s going to happen. I’m not surprised that Sue (Bird), Diana (Taurasi) and Tamika (Catchings) were able to convey to their teammates what happened and what needed to happen. If it’s just always the coaches coming in and saying this, that and the other thing, then you know what, it’s not going to work. Players have to take ownership of it and with USA Basketball they always have and hopefully they always will.
On the decision to move to a two-three zone in the second-half:
I would love to say that it was really strategic on my part, but it was more out of desperation. We couldn’t guard her – there was nothing we could do. We had a couple of our bigs in foul trouble, and their two bigs were just killing us. So, we had played it a little bit this tournament and we were actually pretty bad for not having spent a lot of time on it. That and making a couple shots on the other end proved to be the difference.

On defending Elizabeth Cambage:Clearly, Cambage was able to get a lot of deep posts, really just putting our post players on her back and sealing them, which created easy buckets for her, I mean, 19 points in the first half. Obviously, we discussed that a lot. Really, just putting in the work early, not letting her get so deep. And when she did catch it, really helping off, trying to get it out of her hands, make her pass kind of thing. I think Tina did a great job on her. I think Asjha Jones came in, for being undersized, did an amazing job on her and really it was about making her catch it further out.
On how the team handles being down, usually being up so much in these games:
I don’t know about anybody else, but I don’t win by 40 every basketball game I play. I’ve been down before, I’ve been in close games before. We all have. And there was really no panic. We took what you could probably call Australia’s best shot, 61 percent, one player with basically 20 points in a half. Things couldn’t have gone any better for them, and we were only down four. So, we took that as a positive. Obviously, not happy, but we weren’t deterred, nobody had their head hanging low or anything like that. We were ready for the next 20 minutes to see what would happen. But, we knew. We knew these games would be like this. Everybody thinks we’re going to be steamrolling. Go look at previous Olympic box scores. That’s not always the case. Yeah, it happens occasionally, but that’s not always the case.
On Cambage again:
Obviously, that was one of the first things we talked about. Not letting her get deep. When she’s running the floor, doing your work early. Jamming her up early, so she doesn’t get that deep. She’s a big girl, and when she gets you sealed on her back that low, what are you going to do. It’s almost impossible to stop here. Basically, the post players just need to do their work early. They were great in their adjustments. And, of course, we needed to help as well. It’s not one on one in this game. So, we had to help as well, and, offensively, just to take our time. We have so much talent. Nobody should ever have to take a hard shot. It should be open shots the whole game. Just find the open man and let them go to work. But, I thought everybody really stepped up. Seimone, I thought, was huge in the second half. Lindsay came in and did a great job. Asjha on defense did a great job. I mean, you could go down the line. And, that’s where we have an advantage: our depth.
On the Olympic newcomers helping get a lead:
They’re not rookies. We’ve talked about this since Day One. These are not rookies. These are not 21-year-old kids who have never played international basketball. And, once again, that is where our advantage lies.
On how they matchup with the remaining two teams:
I see a tough game either way. I see a team in Russia, they tend to, as tournaments go, get better and better. They always seem to peak at the right time. They’re not easy to play against. We obviously know them very well. I obviously know them very well, playing in Russia. And Becky’s a pain in the butt, too. They definitely present a problem. And then France is a team that’s also very talented. Probably just as, if not more talented than Russia. They seem to have a buzz about them right now. They seem to be playing with a lot of confidence. They’re a team nobody really talked about heading into the tournament, but personally I knew that was going to be a team we might have to face.

On Team USA’s 16-6 run:
We all know our role; we all know what we can do collectively. It’s just a great thing. We just went out there and we stayed patient and we got it done.
On how Team USA responded to the challenge:
Us being pros, playing in different games, we’ve all been in this situation before. Collectively, we have a great coach in Coach Auriemma and a great staff; and we had a game plan and that was to stop Cambage and to just be more patient on the offensive end.
On what Coach Auriemma told the team at the half:
We had to stop Cambage (laughter). That was the man thing; she had 19 at the half. So we had to slow her down, stop at her at the free throw line, don’t let her run all the way to the block, don’t let her get deep in the paint. Little things like that.

On whether this was the toughest game of the Olympics:
Well, we have one more game left fortunately. So, you’re going to have to ask me that after the next game (laughter). But thus far, yes, yes it was.

Talk a little but about the effort in the second half and what you were trying to do out there?I think we wanted to make it tougher for them in the post. In the first half Cambage had 19 points and that’s just way too many. She got it around the basket where she was comfortable and we wanted to make her uncomfortable and whatever they got in the first cut that out in the second.
What was the locker room like at halftime?
Probably just a reality check. They shot 61 percent, but they were only up four points. So for us that was like a sense that where good, where OK. We made a ton of mistakes in the first half. We gave them everything they wanted and they are only up four. So we realized that we cut a few things out and play smarter and harder, it was our game.
What’s it going to take to win the gold medal game?
I think just sticking with things. It’s the gold medal game so it’s going to be physical. We aren’t going to get any calls from the referees. You have to know that going in and when you get hit you got to keep playing. I think that was big for us in the second half we just stuck with it, we didn’t complain too much when something happened we just kept playing. I think that’s going to be the nature of the game in the finals.

On opening up the lead in the third quarter:That was fun. I remember that group, because we were getting after on defense. Seimone would get a tip. Asjha was in the group, too. Try to get a steal. Lindsay was pushing it in transition. I think we made some really smart decisions on the offensive end. We ran our stuff, some quick hitters that we knew would get us a good look. And the shots started falling, but I think our defense started it.
On her own performance:
I tried to look for ways to make up, because I know made plenty of mistakes in the first half, so I know I had to play some catch up to make for some of the things I did in the first half. I just try to contribute to my team, whether that’s getting a steal or setting a screen, making sure someone else doesn’t get a rebound. And, next game, I’ll do even better.
On the stress level with Australia keeping it very close:
I think we stayed pretty even keeled. I think we got better. It wasn’t a case where we panicked and turned on each other. We stayed together. The leaders on the team, the captains, they said what they needed to say. It was right on the money, as far as making sure we set more screens, played harder on defense, just some more things on the offensive end that we needed to be doing, and we came out and did it. Everyone that stepped into the game contributed. I was really proud of Seimone. She came in and did exactly what she’s supposed to do. She used her length, got some deflections, some rebounds, we all got some loose balls, knocked in shots and tried to wear them out.
On Asjha Jones:
She comes in, and she does her job. I have so much confidence in her. She’s somebody who I think brings a sense of ease to every situation, because she doesn’t rush, and always plays within herself, always plays at her pace. I’m not saying it’s a slow pace, but she plays in her rhythm, and she makes you play at her rhythm, when she’s guarding you, it’s so fun to watch that poise. That’s the word. She plays with poise. It really made a different for us in that fourth quarter, to really extend the lead. I was really happy that she came in and did that for us.

I spoke to Asjha Jones and she said a lot of your demonstrative histrionics are just as a means of getting the refs to call what needs to be called. Is she right? They (messed) me up for a whole possession and then I go like this (presumably gestures). That’s just the way it goes in European basketball. It doesn’t bother me. I just go right through it.
What were you saying (when you were yelling at the team)?
There were some things that were glaring that we weren’t doing that needed to be done for us to be successful. They’re a really big team, and if you think you’re going to come down and just play one-on-one against them, you’re out of your mind.
But you weren’t supposed to be playing one-on-one against them, were you?
I mean, sometimes you think your advantage is greater than the team’s advantage against someone else. I think that in the second half we showed that our advantage is when we play together and make people, especially your teammates, better. I think we did that in the second half.
Your team seemed to have a lot more assists on made baskets in the second half than in the first.
I don’t know if the number was greater but it sure looked different. You have to give credit to Australia. They played tough. They played physical. They get in your way. They do a lot of stuff. In the second half, we did a better job of countering that with some different sets, getting people into different spots, and I think we saw some better things in the second half.
Asjha said that she was pretty sure that you told Coach Auriemma to put her in the game.
I gave him a little nod. At that point in the game, we needed someone to come in and stick Lizzie (Cambage), which, I think, Tina, if there was one person that changed the game, it was Tina taking it upon herself to stop Cambage. And I think Asjha took it upon herself to guard Lauren (Jackson) in a way that made it difficult for her to get some things off.
I think Cambage only hit one shot in the second half, that three-pointer with the shot clock winding down.
Obviously, that was a lot of Tina’s work, but I think it was a chain reaction.
You just amped up your defense.
And sometimes it takes a little bit longer to get into the flow of the game. Everyone wants to, from the jump, come with this crazy energy which, I think we did, but it took us out of a lot of things on the other end. So, I think we just figured out along the way, and that’s what you want. There are no easy games from here on out.
No concern or panic?
I mean, concerned maybe. But I never panicked. Not once during the game. Panic doesn’t really get you anywhere. If anything, we needed to settle down and think the game a little bit more. In the second half, we did that.
If a casual fan was watching, it’s a close game late in the third quarter, you picked up your fourth foul. We’ve spoken about depth.
That’s the beauty of this team. It doesn’t matter who is on the court. We just all have to be on the same page, whichever five it is. You saw what Lindsay did off the bench in the second half. You saw what Seimone did, Asjha, I mean, they did a great job for us. That’s why they’re here. That’s why they’re all here. We have that confidence in each person.

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Anonymous Lorena Wood said...

Rope A Dope strategy worked perfectly

7:49 PM 

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