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Williams Is the Bench Star as U.S. Beats South Korea


SYDNEY, Australia — Natalie Williams almost made the Olympic volleyball team four years ago.

Today she made sure the U.S. will play for the gold medal in women's basketball, coming off the bench to score 10 points in the second half and break open a two-point game for a 78-65 semifinal victory over South Korea in front of 14,698 at the SuperDome.

After winning the gold medal on its soil in Atlanta, the U.S. will play Australia for the gold on its home soil Saturday in front of what is sure to be a loud crowd cheering on the Opals, as the popular Australian women's team is known.

South Korea and Brazil will meet for the bronze.

The U.S. reached the final game, but not without a scare. Leading scorer Sheryl Swoopes left the game with 3:23 left with an injury to her left knee after she came up limping after a breakaway layup on which she suffered no obvious injury.

Swoopes, who scored 19 points against South Korea, iced her knee but walked off the court after the game on her own.

The U.S. and Australia last met shortly before the Olympics, when the U.S. led by only one at halftime but ended up winning, 83-62.

South Korea trailed by only two at halftime and still trailed by two with 13:49 left before the U.S. pulled away.

Williams, a former volleyball and basketball star at UCLA who plays for the WNBA's Utah Starzz, came off the bench to spark the U.S., scoring six in a row on two free throws, a short jumper and a putback off an offensive rebound as the U.S. opened up what quickly became a double-digit lead with a little more than nine minutes left.

"Natalie I think sometimes has struggled with coming off the bench," teammate Dawn Staley said, "because she's everything for the Utah Starzz. She's the leading rebounder and leading scorer. But she found a way to help our team. It's a different person every night. She got inside, got rebounds, got buckets."

Williams wasn't the only player to spark the U.S. off the bench.

Staley also came in and pushed the U.S. against a South Korea team that gave the Americans trouble both times the teams met.

The U.S. and South Korea met in the opening game of the Olympics, and the U.S. had trouble with the team's passing and shooting in that game too.

The U.S. led by only five early in the second half, then won by 15.

This time, the U.S. led by only two at halftime, 42-40, despite shooting 71%.

The reason? South Korea made eight of 15 three-pointers, and Park Jung-Eun was five of nine shooting, four of six from three-point range.

U.S. Coach Nell Fortner received a technical foul in the final minute after arguing a call at mid-court. It was the 100th victory for Fortner as the national team coach. No other coach in USA Basketball has won more.

Lisa Leslie of the Sparks added 15 points for the U.S. and became the nation's career scoring leader in the Olympics. She has 267 points, nine more than Katrina McClain, who played in the 1988, 1992 and 1996 Summer Games.

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