It’s four in a row for U.S. women
BEIJING -- The scoreboard that flashed USA 92, Australia 65 only only part of the story behind this gold-medal dominance.
The three fingers Tamika Catchings held up on each hand, representing the U.S. women’s basketball team’s 33-game Olympic win streak, told more.
And the four gold medals that Lisa Leslie wore around her neck as she exited the Olympic Basketball Gymnasium added an exclamation point -- or maybe an ellipsis?
These were supposed to be the Olympic Games that proved Team USA vulnerable, a semifinal loss to Russia in the 2006 world championships still fresh in many opponents’ minds.
Instead, Leslie capped her international career by becoming the first Olympic basketball athlete to win four straight gold medals. And Team USA won its eight games here by an average of 37.6 points with younger players like Candace Parker, Cappie Pondexter and Kara Lawson making major contributions.
With such veteran players as Leslie and three-time gold medalist Katie Smith probably making their final Olympic appearances, the younger players understand the responsibilities
“Diana [Taurasi] turned to me and said, ‘It’s up to us now,’ ” said Parker, who averaged 9.4 points in this tournament. “We don’t want to be a part of the team that doesn’t win a gold medal. That’s what’s on our mind and what was on the newcomers’ minds this time around.”
Those newcomers didn’t disappoint.
Lawson’s 15 points led four players in double figures against Australia -- allegedly a serious gold-medal contender -- and picked up the slack when Smith and Taurasi incurred early foul trouble.
Center Sylvia Fowles added 13 points against Australia and averaged 13.4 points in her first Olympics, replacing Leslie when the latter fouled out with a smile on her face and a legacy intact.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a team as deep, and that’s why USA Basketball is in good hands,” guard Sue Bird said. “No matter who was on the court, there was no letdown. At times, when the subs were made, the level of play went up.
“When Lisa fouled out, initially you think, ‘Wow, Lisa just fouled out.’ Then you see Sylvia running to check in and everything is OK. We just continued to come at teams.”
Team USA assistant Dawn Staley, who won three Olympic gold medals and two world championships in her playing days, said: “This is the most talented team with the least amount of preparation.”
That’s in reference to the full complement of 12 players not practicing together until late July and then playing three exhibitions before dominating play here.
Team USA did so with a withering defense that limited Australia to 25% shooting in the gold-medal game and the aforementioned offensive depth that wore teams down.
“This is the best women’s team ever thus far,” said two-time Olympian Catchings. “Every single year, we get better and better.
“We came together the last month and a half. I’m just hoping I can make the next one to keep the string going.”
*--* Medal winners G: United States S: Australia B: Russia *--*