- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 9, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) - Penny Taylor and her Australian teammates knew what was at stake.

A win over France would put them in the driver’s seat in Group A, meaning they’d potentially avoid playing the U.S. until the women’s basketball gold medal game.

Taylor helped them also get a measure of revenge in the process, scoring an Olympic career-high 31 points to help Australia beat France 89-71 on Tuesday.

“It’s huge,” Taylor said. “We don’t want to face the U.S. until we have to, so I think that’s huge for us.”

This will be Taylor’s last shot at beating the U.S., and she would like that opportunity in meeting between the top teams in the gold medal game. The 35-year-old guard told The Associated Press before the Olympics started that she planned to retire at the end of the current WNBA season. She’s already has two silver medals at the Olympics and wants to go out with a gold.

On Tuesday, she made her first seven shots and had scored 23 points before missing her first field goal attempt. She finished 10 of 13 from the field with nine assists and five rebounds.

“That was vintage Penny,” Australian coach Brendan Joyce said. “She was great and really lifted us.”

All that stands between Australia (3-0) and winning the group is Japan. Those teams play Thursday and a win by the Australians would clinch the No. 1 seed in its pool and avoid a matchup with the U.S. until the finals. The Australians respect the Americans but aren’t intimidated by the U.S., which has won the last five Olympic gold medals and a roster of WNBA All-Stars and MVPs.

The heavily favored Americans have captured the headlines, but the venerable Opals continue to win .

They have their own 6-foot-8 center in Liz Cambage, who has been dominant so far in the Olympics when she can stay out of foul trouble. They also have a few WNBA stars of their own in Taylor and Erin Phillips.

“We know what we will face if we play them eventually,” Joyce said. “We have a long tough road still before that happens and we’ll worry about them when we face them.”

The road did get a little easier with the win over France. The Opals lost to the French in overtime in the London Games in 2012, costing them the top spot in the group. It was Australia’s only loss to a team other than the U.S. in the Olympics since 1996. Australia ended up with a bronze medal in London.

“We don’t want to drop any pool round games,” said Phillips, who scored nine points in Tuesday’s win. “Good thing about this team is we never get too high on a win or low on a loss. This win against France by 18 was huge. If you had told me this morning when I woke up and said we would beat France by 18, I’d be really, really happy.”

Both Taylor and Phillips missed the 2012 Olympics. Taylor was out with a torn ACL and Phillips didn’t make the team. They are both cherishing their Olympic experience.

“It’s been amazing, gone really fast. I try to soak it up as much as I can when I’m not playing,” the 31-year-old Phillips said. “In the dining hall you see Usain Bolt and some gymnasts who are the best in the world, it’s inspiring.

“You never really know what an Olympics mean until you miss one. Penny and I missed one for different reasons. To be back here makes it so much more memorable.”

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