BEIJING, China -The U.S. Women's Wheelchair Basketball Team is one game away from winning its second consecutive Paralympic gold medal. The U.S. defeated Australia, 60-47, in the semifinals to advance to the gold medal game.
"This is about as good as you can feel at this point in the tournament," said U.S. head coach Ron Lykins (Stillwater, Minn.). "The team did a great job tonight battling with a very good Australia team and not getting rattled, even when they were down. We're in the championship game and we feel good about that. But, we've got a long way to go before we're a championship team."
The final score doesn't really tell the story of this semifinal match-up. A 13-point victory over Australia might make you think this was a runaway U.S. victory. But, with less than five minutes to go in the game, the U.S. was clinging to a 46-45 lead it had clawed its way back to after trailing for most of the third quarter.
"We knew Australia was going to come out hard and knew we had to play harder," said Christina Ripp (Littleton, Colo./Dane, Wis.). "We never got down on ourselves and never panicked. We stayed positive with each other and remained confident, which I think comes with the experience we have on this team."
Shooting woes had plagued Team USA throughout the game. The U.S. began the fourth quarter shooting just 32 percent from the floor and entered the last minute of the game having made only two of its 11 attempted free throws. Australia trailed by just four at this point, 51-47, and decided to take its chances by putting the U.S. at the free throw line. The women responded, hitting nine of 11 free throws in the closing minute to put the finishing touches on a 14-2 run that sealed the victory.
"We didn't really play the best game today," said team co-captain Patty Cisneros (Champaign, Ill./Lake Station, Ind.). "Australia came out and played a great game and kept us on our toes. We countered with a well-executed endgame and hit some clutch free throws and we're lucky that we pulled it out."
Ripp and Stephanie Wheeler (Tuscaloosa, Ala./Norlina, N.C.) carried the day for the U.S. with 18 and 15 points, respectively. Jennifer Ruddell (Rome, Ga.) also had a monster game, posting a double-double of 14 points and 13 rebounds.
The U.S. will face Germany in the gold medal game on Monday, Sept. 15, at 9:30 p.m. at the National Indoor Stadium.
For more information, or to arrange an athlete interview, please contact Susan Katz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 139-1075-4845 (Dial 011-86 plus the local number if calling from the U.S.).