LONDON, Aug 9 (Reuters) - For two 10-minute quarters Liz Cambage, Australia's 6-foot-8 (2.03 m) centre, had the all-conquering U.S. women's basketball team reeling in Thursday's London Olympics semi-final.
Cambage racked up 19 points in 20 minutes with a display in which her size, strength and finishing ability went unmatched, giving Australia a halftime lead over a U.S. team looking to secure their 40th successive Olympic victory.
"She was dominant in that first half, when she gets in deep and catches she's hard to stop. I think she finished well under pressure and I think she handled the physicality well," said Australia coach Carrie Graf.
For the 20-year-old Cambage it was the pinnacle of a competition in which she became the first female player to complete a dunk in 36 years of women's Olympic basketball.
"She's come of age through the tournament... I think she showed tonight she's going to be a world star at some point," Graf said.
Blessed with great basketball size and skills in dribbling the ball and the owner of a soft shooting touch, one can easily forget how new Cambage is to the international stage and its proven professionals.
For the U.S. team, their halftime advice from coach Geno Auriemma was simple: "stop her".
"She had 19 at half so we had to slow her down, stop her at the free throw line, don't let her run all the way to (the) bucket and don't let her get deep in the paint," said Tina Charles, her opposite number on the U.S. team.
The tactical shift worked and with Cambage double-teamed, the biggest woman on the court disappeared as Australia slid to an 86-73 defeat that puts them into Saturday's game for the bronze medal.
Tearful at the end of the game, a frustrated Cambage took responsibility for a second-half display in which a tactical switch from the U.S. stifled her performance and she was unable to add a single point to her first half tally.
"I know I backed down a little bit, so I put a lot of that on me," Cambage said.
Nevertheless, even as the U.S. team secured a shot at their fifth successive Olympic gold medal, the post-match buzz was all about Cambage's first half display.
"She's not even the same player we saw in 2010 at the world championship. She was good (then), but she wasn't like this," said Auriemma.
"The progress that she's made in the last two years is quite remarkable for someone that young. She's pretty amazing." (Editing by Greg Stutchbury)