The formula for the U.S. women’s basketball team was simple: defend the ball, defend their gold.
With the team’s most complete defensive performance of the Tokyo Olympics in a 79-59 win over Serbia in the semifinals, Team USA is now one win away from capturing a seventh straight gold medal.
The U.S., which won its 54th straight game Friday, advances to face the winner of France and Japan on Saturday at 10:30 p.m. ET, with a chance to tie the U.S. men’s basketball team’s record for most consecutive Olympic golds in a team sport.
The one vulnerability in Tokyo for a mostly flawless U.S. team had been its somewhat lackluster defense early in games, particularly against smaller lineups able to capitalize on the perimeter against Team USA’s large frontcourt.
The slow starts that initially hampered the U.S. now seem a thing of the past, with the team playing swarming defense, jumping out to an early lead and rounding into peak form just in time for the gold medal game.
Team USA held Serbia to 30 percent shooting in a defensive performance that would appear even more dominant on the scoreboard had the U.S. not allowed 16 offensive rebounds and commit 17 turnovers.
Still, it was a second straight strong start for Team USA, which shot 55.6 percent in the first quarter while building a 25-12 lead. Serbia struggled to penetrate against the U.S. defense and couldn’t capitalize from the perimeter, missing its first 10 3-point attempts en route to a 28 percent shooting performance in the first half.
The U.S. responded after Serbia pulled within single digits late in the second, closing the quarter on an 11-2 run to take a 41-23 lead into the half.
Team USA maintained its comfortable lead for much of the third quarter, with a bucket by Tina Charles opening a 53-30 lead with 3:37 remaining. Serbia responded with a 9-0 run to pull within 53-39 with one minute left in the third. Breanna Stewart stopped the run with two free throws and Chelsea Gray followed with a 3 with 11 seconds left to increase the lead to 58-39.
Brittney Griner finished with 15 points and nine rebounds and Gray added 14 points on 5-for-6 shooting to lead the United States.
The U.S., which hasn’t lost a game since the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, is now one win away from winning another gold and making more history.
A win on Saturday not only would allow Team USA to tie the record for most consecutive gold medals in a team sport, it would make Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird the first Olympic basketball players to win five gold medals.