Diana Taurasi’s near-best scoring day leads U.S. into FIBA World Cup final

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Diana Taurasi had her highest scoring day in a major tournament in 12 years, leading the U.S. into the FIBA World Cup final in a 93-77 semifinal win over Belgium on Saturday.

Taurasi, a four-time Olympic gold medalist, scored 26 points, her second-highest total in 61 career games between the Olympics and worlds (28 in the 2006 World bronze-medal game). Breanna Stewart added 20. A full box score is here.

Taurasi’s barrage came a day after she scored two points against Nigeria, her lowest total since her fourth game for the U.S. at the 2004 Olympics, when she was 22 years old and the youngest U.S. Olympic women’s player in 16 years. Taurasi played 12 minutes against the African champion, picking up four fouls with a technical.

Her 350 career World Cup points rank third among Americans all time behind Lisa Leslie (393) and Teresa Edwards (371). Leslie’s record appears safe with one game left in Taurasi’s likely last worlds.

The U.S. gets Australia in Sunday’s final with a third straight world title and the first Olympic qualifying berth at stake.

The Aussies, led by WNBA scoring leader Liz Cambage, beat Spain 72-66 in the later semifinal. Cambage had 33 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks.

“Probably Australia has been the best team in this tournament,” Taurasi said, according to USA Basketball.

Australia is 0-17 against the U.S. at the Olympics and worlds. This is the first gold-medal game between the rivals since the 2008 Olympics.

The U.S. started slowly for a second straight game in its semi, one day after trailing Nigeria for most of the first half.

Belgium led 26-21 after the first quarter and trailed by one at the half. The Americans took control with a 33-18 third quarter.

This American team is without stalwarts from its previous decade of undefeated play at the Olympics and worlds. Tamika Catchings and Lindsay Whalen retired after Rio. Candace Parker said she will not play for Team USA again after being left off the 2016 Olympic team.

Minnesota Lynx stars Seimone AugustusSylvia Fowles and Maya Moore, as well as Angel McCoughtry, are reportedly either resting or recuperating from injuries following the WNBA season.

Belgium, which will play for bronze, has been the revelation of the World Cup, its first appearance at a global championship. The Cats had zero world ranking points before it took bronze at 2017 EuroBasket, jumping from outside the top 77 in the world to No. 28 going into the World Cup.

The Belgians won their World Cup group, knocking off host Spain by nine points. Spain is ranked second in the world, the 2014 World and 2016 Olympic silver medalist. They routed France by 21 points in the quarterfinals. France is ranked third in the world.

The team is led by 6-foot-4 center Emma Meesseman, a 2015 WNBA All-Star with the Washington Mystics who skipped the 2018 WNBA season to focus on the national team. Guards Kim Mestdagh (fourth on Colorado State’s career points list and a daughter of Belgium’s head coach) and Julie Allemand (2016 Indiana Fever third-round draft pick, but no WNBA experience) are also threats.

Ann Wauters, a 37-year-old reserve center, spent nine years in the WNBA, making the 2005 All-Star Game.

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