OLYMPIC UPDATE: Gold For USA Women's Basketball Coached By Anne Donovan ('83)
Aug. 23, 2008
Courtsey of USA Basketball
BEIJING, China -- Boasting of an average margin of victory of 37.6 points a game for its eight game run to gold, the 2008 U.S. Women's Olympic Basketball Team (8-0) crushed all comers on the way to the Olympic gold medal, including previously unbeaten Australia (7-1) in a 92-65 blowout in the gold medal game on Saturday night at Wukesong Arena in Beijing, China.
First-time Olympian Kara Lawson (Sacramento Monarchs) led the way with 15 points off the bench on a flawless 5-of-5 shooting from the field and 4-of-4 accuracy from the foul line, followed by 14 points and seven rebounds from the USA's only consecutive four-time gold medalist in history, 36-year-old Lisa Leslie (Los Angeles Sparks). Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks) also tallied 14 points and hit 4-of-4 from the floor, while Sylvia Fowles (Chicago Sky) added 13 points and five rebounds.
Earlier, Russia (6-2) topped China (5-3) 94-81 to earn the bronze medal.
"I would have never guessed that I was ever the leading scorer for the gold medal game for the United States and win a gold medal," Lawson said. "But I think that shows the unselfishness of our team. I think that shows the talent level we have. I don't think they were paying as much attention to me as they were other players on the defensive end, and I just tried to be aggressive and try and bring a spark and bring energy, and I was just fortunate tonight I was able to help my team."
While the USA became the first women's traditional team sport to claim four straight gold medals, the win, which was the USA's 33rd consecutive win in Olympic play dating back to 1992's bronze medal contest, also marked the USA's third consecutive victory over Australia in the Olympic gold medal game. Additionally, USA head coach Anne Donovan ('83) is the first player turned head coach to win gold as both (1984, 1988), while also collecting gold as an assistant coach (2004).
"This is a match that I think everybody wanted to see happen for the gold medal. We know that Australia has risen and is probably our biggest rival. (I'm) really proud of our team," Donovan said. "We were on task. They shot the ball poorly because of our defense. We gave them tough looks early. For us, we were so fired up. Our commitment was just to do what we've done all tournament and to enjoy every minute of it and you could tell the way we started that we were ready for that.
"I think there is a lot of pressure I put on myself for this, and there is just a tremendous amount of satisfaction. The last three years there have been a lot of challenges. So this is a great way to go out."
The U.S. defense held Australia, which entered the game shooting 42.8 percent from the field, to just 19-of-76 shooting for a paltry 25.0 percent from the field. The USA also edged out Australia, which entered the game leading the tournament in rebounding margin (+16.1 rpg.), on the boards 41-40.
"I think our defense really frustrates people, and I think it's underestimated," said Parker. "The amount of pressure we put out front, the people we have in the lane waiting for people that penetrate makes a difference. We really wanted to focus on boxing out and rebounding and once we took care of that we were able to create our offense off of our defense."
On the other end of the court, the USA shot 58.9 percent from the field (33-56 FGs) and 85.7 percent from the free throw line (24-28 FTs), while recording 17 assists, including four from Tina Thompson (Houston Comets).
Australia's Belinda Snell opened the game with seven points, including a 3-pointer to help Australia take a 7-4 lead at 6:45, and following two more Australian points from the free-throw line, Donovan called a time out at 5:55. Leslie sparked the USA out of the break with four quick points and a blocked shot, and a Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever) basket at 4:27 tied the score 10-10.
Snell, who tallied 10 of her 15 points in the first period, nailed another 3-pointer, but this time, it was Lawson's turn to respond. Lawson scored on a jumper to cut the deficit to one, scored two points from the free throw line to give the USA a one point lead and then pulled up in transition to make the score 16-13 in the USA's favor with 2:10 remaining in the first period. Including Lawson's six points, the USA closed the first quarter with a 12-2 run, and the scoreboard read 22-15 at the first break.
Following an old-fashioned 3-point play from Parker and a bucket from Australia, the USA compiled a 9-0 run to stretch its lead to 34-17 with 5:58 on the clock and never looked back. Matching 13 of Australia's points with 13 of its own, including eight in the stanza from Parker, the USA headed to the locker room up 47-30 at the half.
The Aussies outscored the U.S. 24-22 in the third period to narrow the gap to 15, 69-54, after three periods, but the U.S. lead never again fell below 12 points as Thompson tallied eight points in the period to help counter nine from Australia's Lauren Jackson.
The USA sealed its victory with an 8-0 run that stretched its lead to 77-56 lead with 6:52 remaining until the final buzzer. The run included four straight points from Sue Bird (Seattle Storm), followed by five from Leslie. With 6:33 on the clock, Leslie committed her fifth and final foul and headed to the bench, where she was greeted with hugs from her coaches and teammates.
"It's just been awesome for me to experience this for the fourth time with such a great group," Leslie said. "I feel so confident where USA Basketball is going to go in the future and just having an opportunity to play with this group of women and the way we just laid it out. We put it all out there on the floor every single time and we didn't leave anything for anybody else. I thought we were the team who played the best basketball this whole Olympics, and we were the team who was deserving of the gold medal."
The USA outscored Australia 23-11 overall in the fourth quarter to win by 27 points, 92-65.
Overall, Leslie collected her fourth Olympic gold medal; Katie Smith (Detroit Shock) earned her third; Bird, Catchings, DeLisha Milton-Jones (Los Angeles Sparks), Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury) and Thompson captured their second; while Seimone Augustus (Minnesota Lynx), Fowles, Lawson, Parker and Cappie Pondexter (Phoenix Mercury) bring home their first Olympic gold medals.
"Our depth is what helped us get through this tournament and helped us get those double-digit wins, those 20-, 30-point wins, just because other teams didn't have that rotation," Augustus offered. "We send in a full rotation when they are kind of relying of six and seven people to get them through a game. It was just exciting to see that everybody was able to come out and be productive and produce tonight."
Donovan was assisted by University of Texas head coach Gail Goestenkors, University of South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley and Connecticut Sun head coach Mike Thibault.
Since women's basketball was officially staged at the 1976 Olympics, the Americans have collected a record six gold medals, one silver and one bronze medal, and now own a 50-3 (.943) overall record in eight Olympic appearances (the United States chose not to participate in the 1980 Olympic Games).