RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Diana Taurasi and her U.S. teammates knew they’d be in for a test against Serbia.
The end result was another blowout victory, but the Americans couldn’t put it on cruise control like they had in their first two wins.
Taurasi scored 22 of her Olympic-best 25 points in the first half to help the U.S. beat Serbia 110-84 on Wednesday and advance to the quarterfinals.
The U.S. had easily routed Senegal and Spain in its first two games, winning by an average of 52.5 points, they had a harder time against the hot-shooting Balkan nation.
“We knew it was going to be tough. We played them in Turkey in 2014 and it was our toughest game at the world championship,” Taurasi said. “They are the European champions for a reason.”
Serbia came out shooting well from behind the arc and led 17-16 — the latest the Americans have trailed in the Olympics — before Taurasi took over. She scored nine points, including two 3-pointers, during a 15-4 run to close the opening period.
“Usually Diana doesn’t assert herself like she has the first three games,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “Usually waiting for the game to come to her, get everybody else involved. These first three games of the tournament she’s come out and taken over right from the beginning.”
Taurasi is averaging 17.7 points, her highest ever in the four Olympics she’s played in.
Breanna Stewart added 17 points and Tina Charles finished with 15 after getting going in the second quarter to help the U.S. extend the advantage to 22 at the half. Taurasi had five 3-pointers in the first 20 minutes, equaling her Olympic team record. She broke the mark early in the third quarter and finished the game with six 3’s to set a new U.S. Olympic mark.
“Caroline Williams, first-team PR, told me that going into halftime that I needed one, so I shot it,” Taurasi said. “If I wasn’t open I probably wouldn’t have shot it. On this team you really got to be open to shoot. Today I thought I took two bad ones and I felt really bad about it.”
While Serbia could never recover from the halftime deficit, the Serbians did make the U.S. work on both ends of the floor. They kept pace with the U.S. in the third quarter, only being outscored by one point. Serbia finished the game 12-for-20 from behind the 3-point arc.
“They are impossible to play against,” Auriemma said. “Our big guys, it’s a nightmare guarding them. You have a team shooting 20 percent on 2s or 80 percent on 3s at one time. It’s a combination of the two.”
The U.S. (3-0) has been scoring at a record pace, topping 100 points for the third consecutive game. The Americans have never done that in the Olympics and are on pace to break the 102.4 points a game the 1996 team averaged en route to the gold medal that started this run of five straight that the U.S. is currently on. The victory was the 44th consecutive for the Americans, who were a perfect 26 for 26 from the foul line, in the Olympics.
Serbia has had a disappointing first Olympics after winning the Eurobasket last year. The Serbians lost their first two games by a combined eight points, including blowing an 18-point lead against Canada. Now they sit at 0-3 and in danger of not making it to the quarterfinals. Serbia must win its final two games to have any chance of advancing.
“They are the best team in the world, but I thought we did some positive things and we could learn from some things we did well,” said Danielle Page, who scored 15 points. “’’Our goal is to get to the quarterfinals and see what we can do there.”
Page, who played college basketball at Nebraska, joined the Serbian team after the coach saw her play in a French league.
“I got really lucky, she saw me play and wondered if I’d be interested in a passport and dangled the Olympic dream in front of me. I was very interested.”
Next up for the U.S. is Canada on Friday. The Canadians are also undefeated so far after beating Senegal 68-58 to clinch a quarterfinal berth for the second straight Olympics. In the only other game of the day, Spain beat China 89-68.