LONDON -- Facing its first challenge of the Olympics, the U.S. women's basketball team turned up its defensive pressure and turned away Australia.
Trailing early in the second half, U.S. coach Geno Auriemma turned to his Olympic rookies and the group -- led by Tina Charles and Lindsay Whalen -- pressured the Australians into turnovers and bad shots, sparking a pivotal scoring run in the third quarter to help the U.S. beat Australia 86-73 on Thursday.
The Americans, playing for a fifth straight gold medal, will meet France in the final.
Australia went right at the U.S. behind 6-foot-8 Liz Cambage, but the Americans' depth and pressure defense wore down another opponent.
The Australian's budding star scored 19 points in the first half and Australia led 47-43 at halftime. But the Americans held her scoreless in the second half.
The Americans had cruised through their first six games winning by an average of 38 points before facing the No. 2 team in the world in the semifinals -- a round earlier than they had met at the past three Olympics.
With the U.S trailing 56-55 in the third quarter and star Diana Taurasi sidelined with four fouls, Auriemma turned to his bench. The reserves responded, sparking the game-changing run.
Whalen started the 16-6 burst by scoring the first six points and Seimone Augustus chipped in another four to help the Americans build a 65-59 lead at the end of the third quarter.
The U.S. extended its lead to 11 on Charles' two free throws early in the fourth period and Australia could only get within nine the rest of the way. The Americans improved to 7-0 all-time in the Olympics against Australia.
Charles and Taurasi each scored 14 for the U.S. Sue Bird finished with 13 points.
The Americans have won the last four golds and 40 consecutive Olympic contests dating back to the bronze medal game in 1992. The top two teams in the world had met in the previous three gold medal games with the U.S. coming out on top. This was the first time they had played in the semifinals since 1996.
Cambage, making her first appearance in the Olympics, was unstoppable in the first half.
She was able to catch the ball close to the basket and the Americans couldn't contain her. She made eight of her 12 shots to give the Australians a four-point lead at the break. Australia shot 61 percent in the first half, but only had nine baskets in the second half.
"They started playing zone and that threw us off in the third quarter," said Cambage, who's only shot of the decisive period was a wild 3-pointer with the shot clock running down.
Lauren Jackson finished with 14 points for Australia.
A gold medal is one of the only things lacking from Jackson's impressive career. She's won a world championship, two WNBA titles and is the Olympics all-time leading scorer. Yet she's come up just short in her four Olympic appearances against the U.S.