Facing their toughest competitor in the group stage, the United States emerged with a hard-fought 94-74 win against Serbia on Sunday to stay undefeated in the 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women in Istanbul, Turkey.
Diana Taurasi led the United States with 20 points, and Maya Moore earned 17 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists. However, the game’s high scorer belonged to Serbia, with Ana Dabovic racking up 24 points. Jelena Milovanovic added 17 points and 9 rebounds.
“The game was very fast. Serbia did a great job of trying to speed the game up and make it a little chaotic with their defensive aggression,” Moore said.
Moore succinctly summarized how Serbia’s (1-1) harassing defense and up-tempo offense flustered a team accustomed to runaway games. In the first half, Serbia led by as much as 6 before a 32-point second quarter for the United States (2-0) set up a 49-42 halftime advantage for the perennial favorites.
Dabovic left a major sting in the first half though, scoring 22 points in that span against a team that rarely allows a 20-point scorer in international competition.
“Dabovic played great. I played with her in Moscow this past season. She was just making shots and being an offensive threat for her team,” said United States center Tina Charles.
Serbia rallied again in the third quarter, and a pair of Dabovic free throws put them in front 57-56 with 5:02 left in the period. Seconds later, Brittney Griner scored a lay-up that ensured a permanent lead for the United States for the rest of the contest.
In the fourth, the vaunted depth of the United States ended the scare. Leading 77-70 midway through the frame, Taurasi was the focal point of a game-clinching 12-2 run. She also opened the period with a three-pointer and ended the game with a 5-of-7 clip from that range.
“Every possession was a battle. They made us work on defense. There are some things we probably got to clean up,” Taurasi said.
Serbia also made the United States work on offense, forcing 21 turnovers that led to 25 points. For three quarters, Serbia was admirable in containing spaces and forcing tough passes, and they finished the game with an astounding 13 steals.
“They were really coming off the corners, they were really jamming the lane,” said United States guard Lindsay Whalen. Once we figured that out, once we got to the extra pass, things got really good for us.”
Team USA once again used their supreme rebounding to their advantage, getting a 58-26 edge in that category. In addition to Moore, Griner also earned a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Endurance also favored the United States. The lack of a bench presence for Serbia forced head coach Marina Maljkovic to stay with her starters for extended periods. Three Serbian players logged over 30 minutes in Sunday’s game while no one reached that mark for the Americans.
“That fourth quarter caught up with them. They didn’t have the same legs to make the plays to get to the basket,” said United States head coach Geno Auriemma.
The United States concludes group play on Tuesday against Angola. Flattened by Serbia and China in group phase competition, Angola does not figure to hang with the United States for long.