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Stewart pours in 20 first-half points, U.S. dominates Australia

Breanna Stewart showed another way that Team USA can defeat opponents — her taking over — and the squad avoided a let down against a Liz Cambage-less yet very good Australia team.

Australia v United States Women’s Basketball - Olympics: Day 12
Breanna Stewart
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Against Australia at Saitama Super Arena in Japan on Wednesday, the United States went on a 17-0 run from 7:52 to 1:29 in the first that seemed to wash away the nerves it displayed in prelim games against Nigeria, Japan and France as the team truly got back to its dominant ways and went on to win 79-55 to advance to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics semifinals where it will face Serbia.

After its 17-0 run, Team USA led by at least nine the rest of the way and it finished out quarters strong, which is so important. It went on a 9-0 run to close the second and lead by 21 and an 8-0 run to close the third and lead by 29.

The U.S. had made a living inside in its first three games, but on Wednesday power forward/small forward Breanna Stewart stretched the floor and began to score in a variety of ways. Her taking over a game is another way Team USA can beat you and she did just that, scoring 20 of her 23 points in the first half (10 in each quarter).

Stewart started the 17-0 run with a left baseline floater followed by a fast break layup turned 3-point play that made it 9-6 USA. Australia had led 2-0 and 5-2 before Stewart made a short jumper in the lane to cut it to 5-4. Stewart closed her first-quarter scoring with a triple from the left corner that made it 14-6 USA. She then registered two blocks that kept the score at 21-6.

In the second quarter, Stewart scored four-straight points that took the score to 37-21 USA and later scored six-straight points that took it to 45-27 USA. She capped her first-half scoring on a deep, contested three with 1:07 left before the break. When she’s making those, she’s incredibly difficult to guard.

Brittney Griner was second on Team USA with 15 points and led the squad with eight rebounds. In the third, she blocked two shots and scored 10 points, including the final six of the frame. A’ja Wilson, who was the U.S.’s best player in the prelims with with 20.3 points per game, recored 10 points, including four-straight to close the 17-0 run.

Sue Bird (five assists) drained three of her four trey attempts as she improved from zero to three to six to nine points at the Olympics. Meanwhile, Chelsea Gray put on a passing clinic with eight assists to go along with her seven points.

Washington Mystics and Australia guard Leilani Mitchell made four threes on 10 attempts, including three that came at key moments. Her first made it 5-2 Australia, her second ended the 17-0 run and her third cut her team’s deficit to nine one minute and 23 seconds into the second. However, her 14 points and six assists were not enough to make the game close.

Cayla George added 11 points and seven boards in defeat but Marianna Tolo, who had 26 points and 17 rebounds in Australia’s final prelim game, was held to just six points. Seattle Storm center Ezi Magbegor was held to five. New York Liberty guard Rebecca Allen had three points and seven rebounds. Storm forward Stephanie Talbot and Phoenix Mercury forward Alanna Smith, who were both held scoreless in the one game they appeared in in the prelims, had four points and one point, respectively.

Australia was without its best player in Las Vegas Aces center Liz Cambage for the entire Olympics. Cambage sat out as a mental health precaution. Yet, Australia still had five current WNBA players and a roster that beat Team USA in a July exhibition game in Las Vegas. Its poor 1-2 record in the prelims led to a difficult matchup in the quarterfinals.

Many U.S. fans were nervous that the U.S., which was less than stellar in the prelims, would be the victims of said matchup. Instead, the Americans rose to the occasion and secured their largest margin of victory at the 2020 Olympics thus far.

The U.S. made 10 more free throws then Australia and forced 21 turnovers.