Australia v Serbia
12:00am Wednesday August 17 (AEST)
Australia: Having led at quarter-time just once this tournament, Australia have certainly not been at their best but an averagE winning margin of ten points in fourth quarters is getting the job done.
They are the only unbeaten team alongside the USA and have the second best point differential of any team. Historically, they also have a superb record in Olympic Quarter-Finals, having won their past five.
Serbia: Suffering two close losses in their first two games to Spain by six points and Canada by four points, Serbia were on the back foot and when they were thumped by 26 points at the hands of the USA, their tournament almost looked over.
They finished strongly though, recording two straight wins against China and Senegal to leapfrog those sides and finish fourth. Scoring only three points less than Australia per game, Serbia’s concerns lie at the defensive end where they are giving up 12 more points per game.
The leading scorer at the Olympics with 22.4 points per game, Elizabeth Cambage is averaging almost a point per minute. Australian coach Brendan Joyce has been managing her work load while foul trouble has also kept her on the bench at times but when they are able to utilise her size and height under the rim, the Aussies look close to unstoppable.
Serbia’s tallest player, Dragana Stankovic, stands almost eight centimetres shorter than Cambage but it is Sonja Petrovic and Jelena Milovanovic who are their main weapons in the paint, combining for 32 points per game.
Both players are also capable three-point shooters which could see Joyce turn to a role player like Cayla George who has proven herself capable from long range as well, hitting 6-16.
Having scored in double-figures in four games of the group stage including a 31-point performance against Japan, Penny Taylor is the other concern for Serbia while her defence is just as worrying for the opposition, sitting equal-fifth for steals coming into this game.
The likes of Cambage and Taylor have taken most of the headlines during Australia’s campaign but Leilani Mitchell has been just as devastating as the team’s starting point guard.
She is averaging 11.6 points per game and has been deadly from beyond the arc, hitting 13-24 (54%) while she was integral in the comeback win over Japan with 18 points, six rebounds and seven assists.
Erin Phillips has been quieter, held scoreless in two contests, but her game is not always helped by stats as teams still need to honour her shot which opens up the lanes for Mitchell. Her three assist average is good for third best on the team too.
Ana Dabovic is the barometer for Serbia, averaging 7.7 points in losses compared to 19 in victories but she is still shooting just 2-15 from the three-point line, an area she will need to match Mitchell in.
Her older sister Milica, the captain, is not a danger at the offensive end but her six steals against the USA showcased a tenacity at the defensive end of the floor which could bother the Aussie guards.
Needing a lift from their bench to get over Belarus, the Aussies received big performances from Katie-Rae Ebzery (4.8 points per game) and Rachel Jarry (3.2 points at 50% shooting) while Marianna Tolo (7.8 points) stood up with Natalie Burton in foul trouble.
The experienced head of Laura Hodges, competing in her fourth Olympics, is a big benefit while Tessa Lavey is looking more comfortable with each game as a back-up point guard.
11 Aussies are averaging over ten minutes through the group stage, showing Joyce’s faith in his entire roster, compared to Serbia’s tally of nine.
Sasa Cado has been thrown around in the line-up a little but is averaging 5.2 points a game while Tamara Radocaj played handy cameo roles in Serbia’s last two wins.
As with most opponents facing Australia, their chances lie in their ability to shut down Cambage. Some teams have tried double and triple-teaming her while others have tried to force her into foul trouble with physical play but if she is on the court down the stretch, the Aussies would back themselves.
Petrovic and Milovanovic will need to have their eye in from long range to match it with Australia’s sharp-shooters while Milica Dabovic could have the task of shutting down Taylor. A good first quarter should see Australia take the contest but even with another slow start, Serbia will be wary of a side that has been able to fight back every tournament.