Death, taxes, the United States women’s basketball team.
The surest bet at these Olympics retained a gold medal that’s become an American birthright with an overwhelming 101-72 win over Spain on Saturday afternoon. It marked the team’s sixth consecutive gold in women’s basketball – and the fourth straight for elder stateswomen Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird and Tamika Catchings.
Where to begin in a recount of Team USA’s supremacy in Rio, a dominance that’s been demonstrated to an almost numbing effect under iconic University of Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma? They won their eight games by an average margin of 37.3 points. They became the first team to surpass 100 points in four straight games. They extended their winning streak in Olympic play to 49 games, with only one in that span decided by less than 10 points. They hung 121 on Senegal and won by 65, while their biggest scare was a stress-free 19-point win over France in the semis.
“I’m pretty sure we demonstrated that we’re one of the best teams ever,” said Bird, the team captain who missed the semi-final while recovering from a sprained right knee capsule but returned for the gold medal game.
Taurasi, widely regarded as one of the best players ever, matched a five-time WNBA all-star Lindsay Whalen with a team-high 17 points on Saturday. Maya Moore added 14 more to go with five rebounds and six assists. Now the talent-stacked Americans are champions once again.
“It’s pretty incredible,” said Taurasi, the 34-year-old guard led the team in scoring with 15.6 points per game over eight contests. “We had a goal to win the gold medal but there’s something more to it than that. It’s not about one person, one coach, it’s about, ‘how can we make this the best basketball team ever?’”
Team USA took Spain’s best punches early behind a flurry from Alba Torrens, who scored or assisted on all but four of her team’s first-quarter points while the Americans made up for off-target shooting with a heavy advantage on the boards. When the 26-year-old shooting guard from Binissalem canned a three-pointer with 2:04 remaining in the opener, Spain led 17-14. It wouldn’t last for long.
By the second quarter the Americans were wearing the Spanish down with breakneck pace and a roster of talent so deep that reigning WNBA Most Valuable Player holder Elena Della Donne (10 points on Saturday) came off the bench and two-time winner Candace Parker didn’t even make the team. After a period that saw the US team stretch the lead to 49-32 entering half-time, all but one of the US team’s players were on the scoresheet.
When Taurasi knocked down her third three-pointer off a Whalen assist with 7:59 remaining in the third the lead stretched to 56-34, and Spain coach Lucas Mondelo immediately called timeout – though you could scarcely imagine what counsel he had to offer.
By the third quarter Spain’s frontcourt – already undermanned after Sancho Lyttle’s broken foot last round – was in foul trouble and the ship was fast taking on water. As the buzzer sounded for the end of the period, a last-gasp heave by Spain’s Silvia Dominguez from a few steps inside half-court found the bottom of the net. That cut the lead to a mere 81-49.
When the final buzzer sounded the team moved into a cluster of embraces over the court, overjoyed but unsurprised. Whether Taurasi’s goal of all-time supremacy was met is an unanswerable question, but for a fortnight at Carioca Arena 1 the US women sure looked the part.
“It’s just special,” Moore said. “It’s one thing to do something unexpected, but it’s another thing to do something you’re supposed to do, year after year, game after game, quarter after quarter, and this team didn’t get complacent. I think that’s the sign of a true champion, someone who loves the game and plays for the right reasons. Every quarter that we stepped on the court, we respected the game, we respected each other, and did everything we needed to do to deserve this gold.”
This article was written by Bryan Armen Graham at Carioca Arena 1, Rio de Janeiro, for theguardian.com on Saturday 20th August 2016 21.51 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010