October 04, 2014

ISTANBUL (AP) For the past 14 years, Australia has been the consistent challenger to the United States at the world championships and Olympics.

The two women's basketball powerhouses will renew their rivalry on Saturday night when they face off in the semifinals of the worlds.

''Obviously the U.S. and Australia have a history,'' U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said. ''It used to be where Russia was the team that everyone thought they had to work to beat. Australia's come so far in the past few Olympics, since 2000, since the Olympics were in Sydney.''

As far as they've come with a gold medal in the 2006 worlds and three silver medals and a bronze at the Olympics, the Australians have never beaten the U.S. in a major international competition, including an 0-9 mark at the world championships. The Australians avoided playing the U.S. in 2006 when Russia beat the Americans in the semifinals.

''I always said the next gold medal you're going to have to go through them whether it's in the end or in the final four,'' Australia coach Brendan Joyce said.

Australia suffered a setback when star center Liz Cambage went down with an Achilles injury in an exhibition game against the U.S. in Paris last month. Still they've played well in this tournament without her.

''It's a shame they lost their big kid,'' Auriemma said. ''It seems like the tables have been reversed. They lost Liz (Cambage) and we added Brittney (Griner). I thought it was going to be a great matchup between the two of them. They've changed as a team pretty quickly. We saw them right after Liz got hurt and they didn't look so good in France. Now when you watch them, every game they're getting better and better and better.''

So has the U.S., which beat France 94-72 in the quarterfinals by shooting a team-record 71 percent from the field. Griner was a big reason why as she's been nearly unstoppable in the tournament so far. She's averaging 14.3 points and shooting 68 percent from the field.

''She's been playing very well so far,'' said Australian guard Penny Taylor, who plays with Griner on the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA. ''We are going to put in our game plan and do what we can against them.''

Griner is looking forward for a chance to get her first taste of this rivalry.

''I've definitely heard (about the rivalry), and I'm looking forward to (it),'' she said. ''I live for those type of games. I mean, any basketball player lives for those rival games, those games where it's not just handed to you. Where you got to fight for it.''

Even without Cambage and Australian star Lauren Jackson, who is also sidelined with an injury, the Americans are well aware of how talented the Aussies are. They've run through their four games of the tournament, winning by an average of 29.8 points - second only to the Americans' 47.8 average margin of victory.

''It's going to be a tough game,'' said Sue Bird. ''I understand that everyone is going to look at their team, outsiders looking in, and not see the names that they are used to seeing. But, we played against them, and they are tough and they play very well together. Even though they might not have Lauren Jackson and Elizabeth Cambage and whatever, they have an identity within themselves, and they really play to it.''


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