Tina Charles, USA top Aussies
U.S. women face South Korea when quarterfinals open Friday
The 6-foot-4 Tina Charles doesn't spend all that much time going against women bigger than her. At 21, Charles also isn't facing too many players younger than her at the FIBA World Championship for Women.
But Australia's Liz Cambage is both: She's 6-foot-8 and 19 years old. Wednesday Cambage's performance in her third matchup against Team USA in the past few weeks was just one story in a game that had a variety of subplots,.
Times haven't been released yet for Friday's quarterfinals. NBA TV will televise the U.S. national team's game.
She did well. Cambage had team highs of 18 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots.
But Charles, with 14 points and four rebounds in 15 minutes of play, did OK, too. So did the Americans' 6-6 center Sylvia Fowles, who had 15 points and six boards. Team USA did all right as a group in the game everyone expected would be the Americans toughest yet.
The United States won 83-75 over the Aussies, who have ditched the unitard (thank goodness and good riddance) but maintain their unity. It has long been one of Australia's strengths that the team's whole is greater than the sum of the parts, but to see this Aussie group now it has to be said the parts individually are looking good, too.
WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson (13 points, six rebounds) and Cambage are not used to playing off one another as effectively as you envision they will be by, say, the 2012 Olympics. That's understandable because they haven't had much time together. As they develop an on-court chemistry, it should provide even more of a challenge for the rest of the world.
Wednesday's matchup improved the United States to 6-0 at the world championship, while the defending champion Aussies suffered their first loss in the event. The game seemed uneven at different times for both teams, but in general Charles said she thought Team USA had a decent night.
"I think we did pretty good; we stuck to the game plan," said Charles, who spoke by phone from the Czech Republic. "We did well on their bigs. Although toward the end of the second half, we relaxed a little bit. We have to keep up the aggression that we had at the beginning."
The rivalry between the United States and Australia has been percolating for a while now, since Jackson became a force for the Aussies a decade ago, but Team USA has won every meeting between the two in either the Olympics or world championships.
Regardless, the Aussies are thought of as a serious threat. And because there are so many connections between the Aussie and American players who compete together in the WNBA, there are added subplots.
A couple of weeks ago, Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Jackson and Abby Bishop were celebrating as Seattle Storm teammates after winning the WNBA title. Now Bird and Cash are in red, white and blue, while Jackson and Bishop are in green and yellow.
This is old news to players who are used to turning various emotions on and off depending on what uniform they're wearing and yet it remains fascinating to watch them do it.
The Americans won, 89-56, in an exhibition game with Australia in Hartford, Conn., on Sept. 10. The Aussies won a rematch, 83-77, Sept. 17 in Spain.
Cambage had 18 points and seven rebounds in the first meeting, while Charles had eight points and five rebounds. In the rematch, Cambage had 17 and five, while Charles had 18 and seven.
"She's good, she's strong and she works hard," Charles said of Cambage. "She really handles herself well with her size. It's a different challenge when a post player is bigger than me, but you try to do some things to keep them out of the lane and force them to take shots they don't want to take."
Diana Taurasi led Team USA with 24 points, including four of her virtually impossible to defend, quick-release, long-range 3-pointers. Fowles had her second consecutive performance in which she appeared to be close to her normal self after knee surgery. She is 11 of 12 from the field in her last two contests.
Charles, this season's WNBA rookie of the year, moved back into the starting lineup Tuesday against Belarus -- she also started Team USA's first game, against Greece -- and has been a consistent performer in all six FIBA World Championship contests for coach Geno Auriemma.
"In practice we have been doing a lot of repetition on offensive plays," Charles said. "And I think our defense is coming together well. Coach is going to have different people in different rotations, and whatever he picks everybody just has to be ready for it.
"We know that it will be a different game the next time if we play [Australia]. We can't worry about that yet, though."
After a break in games Thursday, the quarterfinals start Friday, with the United States facing South Korea. Belarus meets Russia, whose Becky Hammon scored 27 points in a victory over Spain on Thursday. Like the Americans, the Russians are undefeated. France takes on Spain, and Australia meets the tournament host, the Czech Republic.
As good as Wednesday's win over the Aussies might have felt for Team USA, there are still three big steps left to earning back-to-back golds.
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at voepel.wordpress.com.
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