September 29, 2022 

Serbia takes Team USA out of paint, but Americans advance to semifinals

European teams shut out of World Cup semifinals for first time since 1994

The U.S. will return to the semifinals of the World Cup, following a defensive-minded grinder with Serbia on Thursday in Sydney. The 88-55 win sets Team USA up with a semifinal match against Canada at 3 a.m. ET on Friday, followed by Australia hosting China in the second semifinal at 5:30 a.m. ET.

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Serbia took the U.S. out of its familiar place in the paint during the first quarter and faced only a 25-23 deficit after one. An 11-7 Serbian advantage marked the first time the U.S. saw itself trailing since it arrived in Australia. American centers Brionna Jones and Shakira Austin, who have played very productively in Sydney, recorded a combined three field goals for the day. Meanwhile, the U.S. limited Serbian star center Tina Krajisnik to two points.

“Serbia really executed its game plan,” U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve said, “and took us out of one of our largest identities in the pool play, which was scoring in the paint. Give Serbia credit, every time we tried to get in there, we forced it some. Our recognition came a little too late. There were shots available that I thought we turned down. Overall, I thought our response was good. Once we got out of that first
quarter, we adjusted, and I thought our defense was really hard to play against.”

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The story was similar in Canada’s 79-60 quarterfinal win over Puerto Rico. Post players Mya Hollingshed of Puerto Rico and Kayla Alexander of Canada, both two of the top players in the World Cup group stage, were 1-of-9 and 1-of-8 from the floor, respectively.

“We didn’t talk about just being in the semifinal,” Canada coach Victor Lapena said. “We wanted every day to be the best as possible. To work really hard, to play as a team, and to not think so much about the results.”

Canada now faces its rival U.S., of which its record against isn’t very promising. This type of situation is something guard Kia Nurse was on the other side of during her playing days with the University of Connecticut.

“I have played for a dynasty before,” Nurse said. “Part of what we were able to do was go out there and warm up, and people thought, ‘Oh no, we have to play UConn,’ and we were up 20 before the game started. I think sometimes you can get in that same mentality with the U.S. … I play against these guys every day, so why not give us a chance?”

Speaking of UConn, Nurse’s former teammate Breanna Stewart is another player who Serbia took out of her rhythm in the semifinal. Serbia limited the defending World Cup MVP to 1-of-7 shooting and two points. Kelsey Plum was the high scorer for the U.S. with 17 points in the quarterfinal. In addition, Alyssa Thomas picked up a double-double of 13 points and 14 rebounds.

China and Australia to meet again

China’s 85-71 win over France and Australia’s 86-69 win over Belgium sets up a semifinal between the two FIBA Asia members. China won 76-74 in the group stage at last year’s Olympics, then by 18 at the Asia Cup.

“I think China, they spend so much time together, you see the chemistry they have,” Australia coach Sandy Brondello said. “I think they have individual players who have improved every year that I
have seen over my 10 years as Opals coach. They are very versatile, so they are a tough team. We do have more experience, but they beat us last year, so I think it’s in the moment. They play with a lot of confidence, and we are going to have to play our best game, and that is to win, because they are really good. I think it comes down to who can scout and who makes the shots in those big moments.”

Australia has not been friendly to European teams when hosting the World Cup. The losses of Serbia, France and Belgium eliminates European teams from the semifinals for the first time since 1994. The 1994 World Cup in Australia was also the previous semifinal for China. Canada makes its first appearance since 1986.

Written by Scott Mammoser

Scott Mammoser has covered major international events for FIBA, World Athletics and the International Skating Union. He has been to six Olympics and traveled to more than 90 countries.

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