Liz Cambage cried. Penny Taylor, whose long career is over when the WNBA season ends, stood with her hands on her head staring into space in stunned disbelief.
The Serbia women’s basketball team raced to midcourt, hugging and jumping before circling together and dancing.
The Serbs, playing in the Olympic tournament for the first time, shocked Australia by eliminating the three-time silver medalists 73-71 on Tuesday in the first major upset of the women’s tournament.
“It’s history made for Serbia. It’s such an honor,” said Serbia forward Danielle Page, who was choking up with tears. “It’s an honor to be part of this team.”
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Kennewick High School standout Leilani Mitchell collected 10 points and three assists for Australia.
Ana Dabovic hit a free throw with 10.2 seconds left to give Serbia a two-point lead and the Aussies had one last chance to force overtime or win it. But Mitchell’s heave from near the 3-point line was short, and Marianna Tolo’s desperation put-back didn’t hit the rim — sending the jubilant Serbs racing to midcourt to celebrate.
Australia coach Brendan Joyce said the Aussies, whose streak of medaling in every Olympics since 1996 came to an abrupt end, didn’t take the Euro champs for granted.
“Heartbreaker to go down by 2,” Joyce said. “Not get a shot off with 10 seconds left. Didn’t have the correct spacing. One of the players lost her focus and wasn’t supposed to be a double screen.”
Taylor’s final game in an Aussie jersey wasn’t memorable. The 35-year-old forward missed all seven of her shots, finishing with two points and nine assists.
An emotional Cambage, who has carried the Aussies in Rio and had 29 points and 11 rebounds, didn’t talk with the media when she left the court.
Mitchell scored eight straight points during a third-quarter burst, culminating in a 3-pointer that gave the Opals their largest lead at 48-39 midway through the third period.
But the Australians struggled with 26 turnovers — 16 of those steals by the Serbs.
Serbia will play Spain, a 64-62 winner over Turkey, on Thursday for a spot in the gold medal game.
Dabovic finished with 24 points for Serbia and three steals herself. She scored the final three points for Serbia.
U.S. blows out Japan
Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore each scored 19 points to help the U.S. pull away from Japan in a 110-64 victory and advance to the semifinals
Coming into the quarterfinals, every U.S. game was virtually over at the half. Not this one.
Japan, sticking to its up-tempo style of basketball, shooting 3-pointers and pushing the pace, trailed just 56-46 at halftime. But the Americans, who won their five group games by an average of 40.8 points, had just too much offensive firepower and eclipsed the 100-point mark for the fifth time in six games, outscoring Japan 54-18 in the second half.
The Americans, who will play the winner of France-Canada in the semifinals Thursday, have played nearly flawless basketball in Rio and their performances apparently have made an impression on Japan.
The Japanese players posed for a team picture with the U.S. after the blowout — the second straight opponent to get a postgame memento with the Americans. China took a photo after their game against the Americans in pool play. It’s reminiscent of how opponents reacted to the Dream Team at the 1992 Barcelona Games.
But the U.S. had to work a little harder against Japan and had to do get it done without Sue Bird. The point guard sat out the entire second half after she hurt her knee midway through the second quarter.
Ramu Tokashiki — who plays for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm — scored 14 points to lead Japan (3-3), which was playing its first Olympics since 2004.
The three victories equaled the most ever for the team in the Games, which it will host in 2020.