SAN CRISTOBAL DE LA LAGUNA, Spain — Liz Cambage teared up as the final seconds ran off the clock and Australia was set to advance to the gold medal game of the Women's Basketball World Cup for the first time since 2006.
Getting this far, she finally feels validated.
"This is the furthest I've been at this level. I've never played a gold medal game at this level," Cambage said choking up. "I've also carried a little bit of a weight on my shoulders for eight years. My first world, we didn't even medal. It was the worst the Opals had done. The next Olympics we got bronze, the girls had never done it before. I felt I was bad luck for the Australia team. It's not a nice feeling. This is the furthest I've been at this level. I'm proud of myself and proud of these girls."
Cambage was the biggest reason why they've reached the gold medal game. She had 33 points and 15 rebounds to lead Australia to a 72-66 win over Spain on Saturday.
Trailing 58-50 to start the fourth quarter, Australia scored the first nine points of the period, including six by Cambage to take a 59-58 lead. The teams went back and forth over the next few minutes. Spain led 64-61 with 4:01 left before Cambage converted a three-point play to tie the game. That started an 11-2 run to close the game. As the clock wound down, Australia was celebrating.
Australia will play the U.S. trying to win its second gold medal ever. The Opals won the gold in 2006 — the last time the Americans didn't win.
"What we're chasing, you dream of as little girls," Cambage said. "I watched Penny Taylor and Lauren Jackson win that medal (in 2006). It's been a battle for all these years. We have such a strong group. Anyone can win on any given day."
It will take a tremendous effort by the Australians to knock off the U.S. Australia is 0-17 against the U.S. in the World Cup and Olympics, including going 0-10 in the worlds.
"It is a big challenge, one we're looking forward to," Australia coach Sandy Brondello said. "I believe in this team. One game, anyone can beat anyone. We have to play at our best. We need all 12 players playing at our best. USA is the favorites and we'll give it our best shot, hopefully that's good enough."
The Australians will need another huge game from Cambage, who is the leading scorer in the tournament. She might not have the Spanish crowd to fire her up in the gold medal game. The 6-foot-8 center was enemy No. 1 of the Spanish fans in their semifinal on Saturday night — a role she relished.
After getting a foul in the first half, she cupped her hand to her ear to get them to jeer louder. When she blocked a shot in the fourth quarter, Cambage pounded her chest to the fans on the baseline which drew an unsportsmanlike foul call from the officials.
"I got to do my thing. I got to play the bad guy tonight," Cambage said smiling. "I always said Kanye's line 'scream from the haters' has a nice ring to it. I loved being booed I don't know if I need to see a psychologist about that. Having the crowd against me is something that has always picked me up. I don't know what it is. I've been getting it since I was a kid."