U.S. to face Spain in gold-medal game

ISTANBUL -- Sue Bird has played in enough world championship medal games to know that they are rarely easy.

Even though the U.S. had run through its first four games, winning by an average of nearly 48 points a game, Bird was well aware that a short-handed Australia team would still pose a huge challenge.

The U.S. star guard was right on point.

Tina Charles scored 18 points and Maya Moore added 16 to help the U.S. beat pesky Australia 82-70 on Saturday night in the semifinals of the women's world championship.

"I know at one point during the game I said to my teammates, 'It's the semis. It's not the first round," said Bird, who is playing in her fourth world championship. "Just because it's us teams aren't going to roll over and die. It's the opposite. Rarely have I been in any semi or finals that we're up 20 in the first half and won comfortably."

The Americans (5-0) had to work hard for this victory -- as is usually the case when these powers in women's basketball meet.

"This is a country that has a lot of pride and a team that plays hard every possession and I expected nothing less," Bird said about Australia.

The U.S. will face Spain in the gold-medal game Sunday. Spain beat host Turkey 66-56 for its first trip to the championship. The Spanish team won a bronze medal at the 2010 worlds after losing to the U.S. in the semifinals.

"This team deserves to be in the championship," U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said. "They've earned the right to be in the game. ... They're really balanced and tough. Play with a lot of passion and proved it this entire tournament."

A night after the U.S. shot a team record 71 percent in a win over France, the Americans had a tougher time against Australia. The game got off to a relatively slow start, with more fouls in the first few minutes than points. Brittney Griner, who had been so good through the tournament's first four games, picked up two fouls in six minutes and was benched for most of the half.

Without the 6-foot-8 star guarding the lane, the Australians were able to get to the basket and keep things close.

The U.S. led 24-22 with 5:53 left in the half before Charles took over. The 2012 WNBA MVP scored six points during a 10-1 run with a putback, jumper and hook shot. The hook made it 34-23 with 3:43 left before the break. The U.S. went into the half up 42-30.

"I know my role on the team, get on the boards finish what I can, if you get in the post just make a great post move," Charles said. "B.G. got in foul trouble so it put a lot on my mind, just how I had to be there and stay out of foul trouble myself."

Erin Phillips and Leilani Mitchell kept Australia (4-1) in the game in the third quarter. Mitchell had nine of her points in the period while Phillips had seven of her 19 as the Aussie trailed 61-52 heading to the fourth.

Phillips opened the final period with a 3-pointer that brought the Australia fans to their feet, but then Charles and the U.S. took command with a 15-2 run, that sealed the victory.

"We're Australians, it's the pride we take in every game no matter who we play whether we're up 40 or down 40, we fight the whole game," said Phillips. "We believed we could win the whole game, we never gave up. They're a really talented team, you have to hang pretty close with them to the end to get the win. I'm really proud of my teammates, they fought their butts off."

The Aussies have come far with a gold medal in the 2006 worlds and three silver medals and a bronze at the Olympics, but they have yet to beat the U.S. in a major international competition, including an 0-10 mark at the worlds. Australia avoided playing the U.S. in 2006 when Russia beat the Americans in the semifinals.

After failing to win a medal at the 2010 worlds, Australia will face host Turkey in the third-place game.

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