LONDON - The U.S. women's basketball team had won 39 consecutive Olympic games and had beaten every opponent in London by 25 points or more, but on Thursday afternoon its leisurely stroll to the medal stand was temporarily blocked by a couple of very large Australian women, who threw the American post players around as if they were made of plywood.
Australia led the U.S. by four at halftime, and after U.S. captain Sue Bird yelled at her teammates in the locker room, the Aussies survived an early run to hold a one-point lead with less than four minutes left in the third period. When American star Diana Taurasi committed her fourth foul and left the floor, the U.S. faced a rare crisis.
That's when Lindsay Whalen and her Minnesota Lynx teammates turned North Greenwich Arena into Target Center East. Whalen scored six points in a row, starting a 16-3 run during which all of the American points were scored or set up by Whalen, Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus, the three Lynx players on the team. The U.S. went on to win 86-73.
"That's Lindsay,'' U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said.
"That was fun,'' Moore said. "I remember that group because we were getting after it on the defensive end. 'Mone came in and did what she does, use her length to get deflections and make shots, and Lindsay did what she always does, came in and ran the team with great poise.''
The U.S. will face France in the gold medal game on Saturday. Australia faced the U.S. in its past three gold medal games at the Olympics.
In the first half, Whalen didn't score, missing both of her shots. Augustus had four points, and Moore, in the starting lineup for the second consecutive game, was alternately dynamic and erratic, scoring seven points but turning the ball over three times.
"The second half, I felt a little better,'' Whalen said.
Evidently. At halftime, Bird, the veteran point guard, lit into her teammates. "Which is unheard of,'' Augustus said. "When Sue has to yell at us, that's a problem, so we had to come out with energy in the second half. Before today, I'd never seen Sue with anything other than a smile. D [Taurasi] is always yelling, but not Sue.''
The Lynx players are on quite a roll. They won the WNBA championship last summer, with Augustus the finals MVP. Whalen has become a key player on her first Olympic team, and Moore has moved into the starting lineup.
Augustus played on the gold medal team in Beijing. Whalen and Moore seem particularly thrilled to be invited to join the dynasty.
"I'm kind of getting sad that it's drawing to a close,'' Moore said. "It's so fun to play with this group. It's a dream. To be able to have such talent and leaders around me, and to think about the journey being close to being over, it's sad. But it's exciting at the same time.
"I want to enjoy these last 48 hours with this team, whatever happens. I appreciate everything that's happened with this group, and this staff. It's going to be a fun 48 hours. We're going to take the small things we need to fix from this game, and it's going to be a really good show.''