HAINING, China Lisa Leslie scored 14 points, and the United States held off Australia 71-67 to win the FIBA Diamond Ball tournament Tuesday night.
This was the first meeting between these two rivals with both teams at full strength since the 2004 Olympics gold medal game, won by the Americans 74-63.
Before Tuesday's game both teams said this contest was merely a tuneup for the Olympics and nothing more. Yet the physical play spoke differently. Players on both teams hit the floor after hard fouls and the game had the feel of an Olympic gold medal matchup not a meaningless game.
"We definitely bring out the best in each other," U.S. coach Anne Donovan said. "We have a familiarity with each other. This was absolutely the best preparation we could have going into next week."
The next time these teams meet could be for the Olympic gold.
Penny Taylor scored 19 points to lead Australia. Lauren Jackson added 16 and was named the tournament's MVP.
"It definitely was a high quality game, but we still have a long way to go." said Taylor, who sported a blackened left eye sustained on a hard screen. "Tonight was a chance to see where we stand, and I look forward to seeing them again."
The Americans were leading 67-65 with 2:04 left when Leslie hit a layup to extend the advantage to four. Taylor answered with a twisting layup on the other end to make it a two-point game.
With the shot clock winding down, Tina Thompson hit a jumper from the corner to restore a four-point lead. Then Australia turned the ball over on its next two possessions.
Candace Parker had 12 points, and Sue Bird added 11 for the United States.
"I thought we were pretty solid," said Katie Smith, who scored six points for the Americans. "It was a good test for us."
In earlier games Tuesday, China beat Latvia 63-51 to win the bronze medal. Russia topped Mali 79-52 in the fifth place game.
The Opals have been training together for awhile. Taylor and Belinda Snell didn't play in the WNBA this season so that they could work out with Australia and prepare for Beijing. Jackson left the Seattle Storm in the middle of July to get ready for the Olympics.
That cohesiveness showed as Australia cruised through its first two rounds easily beating China and routing Mali.
The U.S. team was forced to do more piecemeal training due to injuries, overseas commitments and the WNBA season. The Americans, who only have been together as a whole team for a week, struggled in their first game against Latvia before routing Russia on Monday night.
Tuesday provided the real test.
"I feel great about our progress," Donovan said. "For me its about intensity and getting better every day and we've done that. This is a great win for us."