SAN CRISTOBAL DE LA LAGUNA, Spain (AP) — Just as it has done for most of the tournament, the U.S. used a big third quarter keyed by Diana Taurarsi and Breanna Stewart to pull away from an opponent.
This time, it was Belgium, whose one-point halftime deficit turned into 16 by the end of the third period. Taurasi finished with 26 points, including hitting five 3-pointers, to help the U.S. win 93-77 on Saturday in the semifinals of the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup.
“We got some stops, they are a really good team. They’ve been playing together for a long time, you can tell,” Taurasi said of the third quarter in which the U.S. outscored Belgium 33-18. “We got a couple more stops, we made a couple more plays on offense, wore them down a little bit.”
Breanna Stewart added 20 points while Brittney Griner had 16 for the Americans, who will be going for a third straight gold medal at the worlds — something the country has never done.
“That’s what we’re here for,” said Elena Delle Donne, who is on her first World Cup team.
The U.S. has won 21 consecutive World Cup games and will play Australia for the title Sunday. The U.S. has won all 17 meetings between the teams, including a 10-0 mark in the World Cup.
Belgium, making its first appearance in the World Cup, was led by Emma Meesseman’s 23 points. The Belgians already had surpassed their goal of reaching the quarterfinals. A bronze medal would be an excellent achievement.
“I don’t know who is going to play us,” Meesseman said. “I know we’re going to give all we have left.”
Belgium hung around for 25 minutes thanks to Meesseman and solid outside shooting. The score was 52-52 midway through the third quarter before the U.S. closed the period with a 21-5 run. Griner, Stewart and Jewell Loyd keyed the spurt. Belgium came no closer than 14 the rest of the way.
Meesseman got her team going early, scoring 13 points in the opening quarter as Belgium shot 56 percent to lead 26-21 after one quarter. The U.S. rallied behind Taurasi and Elena Delle Donne, who had seven points in the second quarter to give the Americans a 40-39 halftime lead.
HELPER MARK: Sue Bird is now one assist shy of matching Dawn Staley’s career mark of 103 for USA Basketball at the World Cup. She had seven against Belgium to match her best-ever in the Worlds.
Staley, when hearing that Bird was one assist away, joked that “she’s not playing.”
Bird was honored to have a shot at her coach’s mark.
“I think anytime you can break a record, it’s one of those things later, when it’s all said and done, you have a true appreciation. This one is a little different when it is someone like Dawn who’s holding it.”
MILESTONE REACHED: The U.S. scored the 10,000th point in its World Cup history on the first basket of the game by Griner. No other team is close.
“If I ever go on jeopardy they will say Brittney Griner scored the 10,000th point,” she said laughing. “That’s awesome. That’s a lot of scoring for the USA.
TIP-INS: Taurasi was two points short of matching her World Cup high of 28 set against Brazil in 2006.
SKIPPING THE WNBA SEASON: Meesseman decided to train with the Belgium team all year instead of playing for the Washington Mystics in the WNBA this past season. She didn’t second-guess her decision when the Mystics made the WNBA Finals for the first time. She was thrilled for her teammates — Delle Donne among them — but was happy with her choice to train.
SCOREBOARD: Australia beat Spain 72-66; China topped Canada 62-58 and will meet France for fifth place. France beat Nigeria 84-62. Nigeria and Canada will play for seventh.
Belgium: Bronze-medal game against Spain.
U.S.: Gold-medal game against Australia.