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For the second time in a week, Australia has handed the United States a shocking upset on the basketball court. A few days after the Australian men stunned Kevin Durant and Co., this time it was the women’s turn. On Friday afternoon, the Australian women battled back from a 13-point halftime deficit to take down Team USA 70-67 in a pre-Olympics exhibition game in Las Vegas.
Australia led by four points with less than 20 seconds to play, but Brittney Griner hit a free throw and Team USA forced a steal to give themselves a chance to tie the game. Breanna Stewart even got a clean look at a 3-pointer to force overtime, but her effort at the buzzer did not go down.
This was the first time that Australia has beaten Team USA in a women’s basketball game since 2010, when they won an exhibition in Spain ahead of the 2010 FIBA World Cup. Seattle Storm forward Ezi Magbegor led Australia with 17 points, five rebounds and three steals, while New York Liberty forward Rebecca Allen added 11 points, five rebounds and two blocks.
While much of the focus will be on Team USA after this game, the Opals, as Australia’s women’s team is called, deserve a ton of credit for how they played. Down double digits at halftime, they kept battling and locked in on the defensive end. A big part of their victory was forcing the Americans into 18 turnovers, which they converted into 14 points.
That they did so without their best player, Liz Cambage, makes it even more impressive. After reports of an altercation during a closed-doors scrimmage against Nigeria, Cambage was in danger of being removed from the team. But before Australia could make a decision, Cambage announced early on Friday that she was withdrawing from the Olympics in order to focus on her mental health.
Even without Cambage, Australia will be a major medal threat when the Olympics begin in Tokyo later this month. They’re currently the No. 2 ranked team in the world, and their big upset win over Team USA will only bolster their confidence.
As for Team USA, this continued a disappointing week. On Wednesday, they lost to Team WNBA in the 2021 WNBA All-Star Game, and this group is now 0-2 together. There’s no question that they’re the most talented team in the world, but thus far they haven’t played like it. Stewart finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds, while A’ja Wilson added 12 points as the only other double-digit scorer.
If you want to look on the positive side, head coach Dawn Staley was clearly experimenting with different lineup combinations in this game, and Stewart, Jewell Loyd and Sue Bird were the only players who saw over 20 minutes. They also shot just 2 of 18 from 3-point land and turned the ball over 18 times — both of which probably won’t happen again.
Team USA will continue their Olympic preparations with another exhibition game against Nigeria on Sunday. When they do arrive in Tokyo, Team USA will be in search of a historic seventh straight gold medal. They’ll also be looking to extend a 49-game winning streak at the Olympics, which dates back to the bronze medal game in 1992.
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