The UConn players on Team USA's roster -- Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Tina Charles, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck -- know quite a bit about this. Their alma mater has never lost an NCAA women's basketball championship game, going 11-0. The national semifinal has been the more dangerous game for the Huskies, who have lost that eight times, including the past two years.
Similarly, to the degree the Americans have had difficulty in international play over the past 30 years, it has come in the semifinals. Between the Olympics and the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup, Team USA has lost three times in the semis since 1988: in 1992 to the Unified Team at the Olympics, and in 1994 to Brazil and 2006 to Russia at the World Cup.
So after the U.S. women's 93-77 victory over Belgium in Saturday's semifinals, one might think much of the danger of an upset of the favorites is over. But that's not the case. Because what's next should be their biggest challenge of all.
On Sunday (ESPN, 3 p.m. ET), the Americans will face Australia, which beat Spain 72-66 in the other semifinal, for the gold medal. The two teams that have looked the best this tournament will face off in a matchup with a lot of familiarity between the sides.
On Saturday, the United States met a very energized Belgian team playing in its first World Cup and having advanced further than most anticipated. And for a half, Belgium was right there, trailing just 40-39 at the break. But there is a familiar story for even those foes playing very well against the United States: Twenty minutes is a world of difference from 40.
The Americans generally don't get rattled by a slow start or tight first half. There are so many ways veteran guards Taurasi and Bird contribute to this squad, but not panicking is certainly one of them.
Yes, Taurasi struggled in the quarterfinal versus Nigeria with four fouls (including a technical) and only two points, seeming out of sorts in that game. Yet the Americans still won handily without much contribution from her. Then Saturday, the switch was flipped the other way for Taurasi: She scored 26 points, making 5 of 10 3-point shots. Three of her treys early in the third quarter were particularly huge, as the Americans outscored the Belgians 33-18 in the period and took control.
For every opponent so far, holding back the Americans has been like trying to battle the tide: Eventually, it's going to swamp you. Belgium was ultimately vanquished by so much talent and experience on the American side.
Along with Taurasi, two other former UConn players had very key roles: Stewart, who has been the American team's MVP, had 20 points and seven rebounds, and Charles had eight points and seven boards.
Taurasi's Mercury teammate Brittney Griner, had 16 points and six rebounds. And Jewell Loyd, who just won a WNBA title along with USA teammates Bird and Stewart with Seattle, was a big contributor, too, with eight points, five rebounds and six assists, along with good defense.
This tournament still has been a big success for Belgium, which now plays host country Spain for the bronze medal. The Mystics' Emma Meesseman led the way with 23 points and six rebounds for Belgium, and Washington coach Mike Thibault will no doubt be excited to get her back next WNBA season.
The Spain-Australia semifinal was the most emotional game of the tournament thus far, with Aussie center Liz Cambage battling not only the Spanish team, but the crowd that relished cheering against the demonstrative center.
But Cambage and the Aussies were too much for the Spaniards in the final quarter, outscoring them 22-8. Cambage, who has been the top player of the World Cup so far, had 33 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots in a matchup that was so intense, players on both sides shed some tears afterward of either happiness or disappointment.
There's little turnaround time for the final showdown. The only time the Aussies have won World Cup gold was 2006, and Australia didn't face the Americans because of their semifinal loss. So this is the matchup many observers were expecting and hoping to see.
Taurasi and Griner will be going against their Mercury coach, Sandy Brondello, of the Australian team, along with fellow Phoenix player Stephanie Talbot. Charles is teammates on the Liberty with Australia's Rebecca Allen. And Team USA's Storm brigade of Bird, Stewart, Loyd and assistant coach Dan Hughes goes against Seattle's and Australia's Sami Whitcomb.
No team at this tournament has been able to stop Cambage. Griner will be tasked with that to a degree, but it will take a team defensive effort from the Americans. And if there's one thing that has been a little shaky at times for them, it has been defense -- mostly because of their short preparation time. But they all faced Cambage throughout this past WNBA season, so they know what they're in for.
So do we, the viewers: a matchup that should be highly entertaining. Can the Americans slow Cambage enough to force the rest of the Aussies to beat them? Can Australia successfully deal with all the Americans' offensive weapons? It's the gold-medal game this tournament deserves.