SAITAMA: Breanna Stewart #10 of the USA Women's National Team dribbles the ball during the game against the Australia Women's National Team during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics yesterday at the Super Saitama Arena in Saitama, Japan.

SAITAMA: Breanna Stewart scored a game-high 23 points as the United States crushed Australia yesterday to set up an Olympic women's basketball semi-final against Serbia as the Americans close in on a seventh consecutive title. Brittney Griner added another 15 points and A'ja Wilson 10 in the 79-55 rout against the world's number two team. They will meet Serbia tomorrow after the European champions and Rio bronze medalists swept past China 77-70.

Meanwhile, hosts Japan won a thriller against Olympic debutants Belgium 86-85 to set up a last-four showdown with 2012 silver medalists France after they edged 2016 runners-up Spain 67-64. It was never going to be easy for Australia to take down the US, who have now won 53 Olympic games in a row.

The incredible streak began with the 1992 bronze-medal decider and includes a record six straight gold medals and four victories in Tokyo. So dominant are the US that they have won eight out of the past nine Olympic titles, with the only blemishes a silver medal behind the Soviet Union at the inaugural tournament in 1976 and bronze in 1992.

"I thought we came out and played inspired basketball on both sides of the ball," said US coach Dawn Staley. "We played with an incredible desire to advance and it was just contagious." Looking ahead to Serbia, she added: "They played inspired basketball, and that is a scary thing." The only team to consistently come close to challenging the US team this century have been Australia, who have contested three gold medal games against them. But they were never in the contest at Saitama Super Arena.

Led by WNBA stars Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Sylvia Fowles, the US set the tone with a 15-0 run in a first quarter during which Australia nailed just four of 14 field goal attempts. The Opals' shooting woes stretched into the second term as the US galloped to a 48-27 halfway lead, with Seattle Storm forward Stewart nailing 20 of them.

'Trending upward'

That blew out to 68-39 heading into the final stretch and there was no way back for Australia. "Knowing this was the knockout game, win or go home, we wanted to be our best," said Stewart. "We are trending upward. There is more business to be done." Marine Johannes poured in 18 points as France got the better of Spain in a nail-biting finish, with Gabby Williams adding 11 points and making three of four free throws inside the final 90 seconds. Earlier, towering forward Jelena Brooks drilled 18 points to help Serbia get past China.

Sonja Vasic added 16 and Ana Dabovic chipped in 13 to book their second Olympic semi-final in only their second appearance. "We never quit, and we play the hardest when we are down. We showed today we can find energy," said Dabovic. "This is a great success for a small country." Serbia qualified for their debut Games at Rio in 2016, where they beat Australia by two points in the quarters but succumbed to Spain in the semis, before downing France to win bronze.

A three-pointer from Saki Hayashi with 15 seconds left put Japan through to the last four for the first time ever after a tense game against Belgium. Yuki Miyazawa sunk 21 points, but Rui Machida was the star with 14 assists while chipping in 10 points. Japan's best Olympic finish before now was their fifth place at the 1976 Games in Montreal. - AFP