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Spain will be USA's toughest test yet

If you're up on United States women's basketball history, you know that the Americans just got past the only round at the FIBA World Championship or the Olympics that has tripped them up in the past 30 years.

That's the semifinals, in which the United States beat ultra-pesky Australia 82-70 on Saturday at the world championship. The Americans advance to Sunday's gold-medal game against Spain, which disappointed the host nation by beating Turkey in the other semifinal 66-56.

It's no surprise that the United States and Spain are in the final (ESPN2/WatchESPN, 2 p.m. ET). And it won't be a shock if the Spaniards push the Americans on Sunday. Spain is a good squad that has a mix of experience and youth plus a top-notch WNBA player in Sancho Lyttle of Atlanta. Spanish guard Anna Cruz, who started for the New York Liberty this past season, also brings WNBA experience into a matchup against the Americans' 11 WNBA players and one collegian.

The United States hasn't lost in a matchup for the gold medal in the world championship since 1983, when it lost to the Soviet Union 84-82 at a time when there was a changing of the guard in women's basketball. After winning the world championship in 1979, the United States fell just short of repeating in '83. But the tide had turned toward the Americans.

The Soviets had been the world's dominant program in the sport since the late 1950s, winning six world championship golds plus the first two Olympic golds. Admittedly, they didn't face the Americans in the second Olympic Games to have a women's basketball tournament -- 1980 -- because of the United States' boycott that year.

As the Unified Team in 1992, after the recent breakup of the Soviet Union, the Russians won one more Olympic gold. They defeated the Americans in the semifinals that year in the Barcelona Games.

But that's the last time the United States fell short of Olympic gold; the Americans have won five straight since. However, they've had two other semifinal slips in the world championship: in 1994 (to Brazil) and 2006 (to Russia).

So Sunday, the Spaniards will try to hand the United States its first loss in a world championship final game since the days when Cheryl Miller and Lynette Woodard were the Americans' stars.

Of course, the Spaniards don't need to hear about how history is against them Sunday, and likely don't care, either. They can just look at the makeup of Team USA to know how difficult their task is, but it doesn't diminish the fact that they are giddy with excitement about making the final for the first time in their nation's history.

Spain can pose some problems to the Americans, who really did have to play hard to finally shake the Aussies on Saturday. The semifinal -- which was also a Phoenix Mercury reunion -- was the 10th meeting between the United States and Australia in world championship play, dating back to 1967.

The Americans made it 10-0, but the Aussies forced them work for it. Even without Lauren Jackson and Liz Cambage, Australia was able to hang in against an U.S. team that had been close to perfect in its quarterfinal victory against France.

Guard Erin Phillips led the way for the Aussies, scoring 19 points. Penny Taylor scored eight points; she and Phillips were facing Mercury teammates Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Candice Dupree on the American side.

Taurasi had 11 points Saturday, but two other former UConn players -- Tina Charles (18 points) and Maya Moore (16) -- led the way offensively. Charles also had nine rebounds in what was, overall, her best game of the world championship.

It was kind of a quiet day for Griner, who had six points, but she and Charles will both be very important Sunday against a Spanish team that has some power inside.

Lyttle averaged 12.2 points and 9.0 rebounds this season for the Dream, and she had 18 and 12 in the victory over Turkey. Spain's 25-year-old forward Alba Torrens was her team's leading scorer Saturday, with 28 points. She is Spain's leading scorer in the world championship, averaging 16.6 ppg.

"It should be a really great matchup as far as the two best teams in the tournament, I think, meeting in the gold-medal game," Moore said. "Spain has a lot of great weapons, offensive talent, some versatile posts, guards that are pretty slippery and can get to the paint. So we are going to have our hands full."