SYDNEY, Australia (AFP) – Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas nailed 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists as the United States close in on an 11th title after setting up a women’s basketball World Cup semi-final against Canada Thursday.
Guard Kelsey Plum added a game-high 17 points in a 88-55 pummelling of Serbia, with the three-time defending champions strong on both offence and defence.
They will meet Canada in Sydney on Friday after the world number four swept past Puerto Rico 79-60 in their bid for a first medal since capturing bronze in 1986.
An impressive China battled past Olympic bronze medallists France 85-71 to make their first semi-final in 28 years and will face 2018 finalists Australia for a place in the gold medal match.
The host nation, one of only two teams other than USA or the former Soviet Union to win the World Cup, dominated Belgium 86-69 with veteran Lauren Jackson playing a pivotal role.
The US victory made it a 10th consecutive World Cup that they have gone undefeated before the last four, with coach Cheryl Reeve content despite a slow start.
“I thought Serbia executed their game plan and took us out of one of our largest identities in pool play, and that was scoring in the paint,” she said.
“But overall, I thought our response was really good. Once we got out of the first quarter, we adjusted a little bit and we found success … I thought our defence was really hard to play against.”
Little separated them in the first frame, with the US taking a narrow 25-23 lead, shooting 57 percent to Serbia’s 48 percent.
The US has been brutal in punishing errors, and they stepped up a gear to dominate around the board, building a 50-33 half-time lead on the back of a 12-0 run.
Serbia, ranked 10, was shooting just 30 percent from the field and were held to only seven points in the third quarter, before the Americans put another 22 points past them in the fourth to romp home.
– Accomplishment –
“Serbia really tested us, they played super physical,” said Plum. “I felt early on their pressure bothered us, but we were able to get it under control.”
It was never going to be easy for the Serbs, with the US on a 28-game unbeaten streak, their longest since winning 26 from 1994-2006.
They now meet a young Canadian team rejuvenated under coach Victor Lapena, coming through the group phase with just one narrow defeat, against Australia.
They were too strong for Puerto Rico, racing to a 44-23 half-time lead, successfully blunting the threat posed by dangerwoman Arella Guirantes.
The Puerto Ricans improved their defence and shooting percentage to come out on top of the third quarter as Guirantes found her stride, ending with 19 points. But it was too little too late.
“This is a great accomplishment for Canadian basketball,” said Kia Nurse, who downed 17 points. “It’s been a really long time coming.”
A superb China finished 4-1 in group play after only losing to the USA, but came into their clash with France having lost their previous three World Cup quarter-finals.
They made no mistakes this time to secure a first semi since 1994 with the twin towers of Han Xu and Li Yueru at the forefront and shooting guard Li Meng pouring in 23 points.
Nothing separated them in the 25-25 first quarter, but China assumed control in the second to move 50-39 in front. They took an eight-point lead into the final leg and held their nerve.
“Mentally our players have improved a lot and right now we are moving forward,” said China coach Zheng Wei.
Australia went on a 13-point run to take a 26-16 first quarter lead against Belgium and built to 52-37 at half-way, with 41-year-old Jackson in the heart of the action.
They took a massive 24-point advantage into the home run and the win was never in doubt. Jackson ended with 12 points and Cayla George 19.
© Agence France-Presse