U.S. Women’s Basketball Rolls Past Serbia to Olympic Final

U.S. Women’s Basketball Rolls Past Serbia to Olympic Final

TOKYO — The U.S. women’s basketball team has many advantages during the Olympic tournament, including a coterie of W.N.B.A. stars that seem to have a lot of chemistry.

But one of the most important could be that several of them have played in international leagues in the off-season or do so now for lucrative contracts, making their opponents not as unfamiliar as they might otherwise be.

Brittney Griner said as much after she led the team in a 79-59 semifinal romp of Serbia that gave the U.S. squad its 54th consecutive Olympic win since 1992 and its 11th appearance in the gold medal game, which is Sunday.

“After playing nine years in the W.N.B.A, playing overseas, and knowing the players too, I have played many players of team Serbia overseas,’’ said Griner, who is on the Phoenix Mercury and has played in China and Russia. “So just having that confidence and familiarity, I can play well.”

That was a bit of an understatement. She had 15 points and 12 rebounds. That, combined with Chelsea Gray’s 14 points and Breanna Stewart’s 12 made the U.S. unstoppable, as they have been throughout the tournament.

The United States has stomped past Nigeria, Japan, France and, in a quarterfinal game, Australia, always with comfortable margins.

The U.S. women are favored to win their ninth gold, and it hasn’t looked like teams have an answer for their versatile offense and defense. They lead the tournament in scoring, assists and field goal percentage — and also in star power with the likes of Bird, A’ja Wilson and Diana Taurasi.

Wilson said the U.S. has focused on improving its defense.

“That comes from just playing with each other, trusting the next layer of defense to be there,” she said.

She added, “We’re really starting to clamp down on our defenders and our teams and we’re just meshing together.”

As the team steamrollers along, pressure may be mounting to meet the expectations of a seventh consecutive gold. Or is that galvanizing them?

“This is exactly where we want to be, so now everything is on the line,’’ Stewart said. “We’re going to do what we can to make sure that we come home with a gold.”

Still, she said, the drive to meet the mark can take something away from an Olympic experience already constricted by pandemic protocols and regulations.

“Right now there’s so much pressure that it’s seven straight overall, things like that, that you get lost in what’s actually happening and enjoying being at the Olympics,” Stewart said.

Serbia, which is ranked No. 8 in the world, was not considered a doormat. They had a comeback win over China in the quarterfinals and are the reigning EuroBasket champions; they are noted for a grinding if not flashy offense and a tough defense. Jelena Brooks leads the team in scoring with 13.5 points per game.

Yvonne Anderson, a U.S.-born player with Serbian citizenship, led Serbia against the United States with 15 points and two rebounds.

The U.S. might have already brushed past its stiffest competition in this tournament by beating Australia, which is ranked No. 2 in the world. France is ranked fifth in the world and Japan is 10th.

But the Americans, who are ranked No. 1 — if it needs to be said — pledged to be ready for either of France or Japan.

“The winning team is going to come out extra aggressive, but we have to fight through that,’’ Sylvia Fowles said. “At this point, we’re locked in on the task ahead of us. We’re just trying to win the gold.”

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