U.S. Women Collect Third Straight Gold With 74-63 Victory Over Australia
August 28, 2004 Athens, Greece
Two-time defending gold medalists, the U.S. Women's Olympic Basketball Team (8-0) accomplished its goal of winning a third consecutive gold medal in Athens by claiming a 74-63 victory over rival and previously unbeaten Australia (7-1) on Saturday night. The USA's veteran leadership of Lisa Leslie (Los Angeles Sparks), Dawn Staley (Charlotte Sting) and Sheryl Swoopes (Houston Comets), who now have nine Olympic gold medals between them, propelled the team to victory with a combined 32 points.
"I thought that first championship (with Houston Comets) was big. But I thought that tonight was as big as it got for us," said USA and Houston Comets head coach Van Chancellor, who owns a 38-0 record as a USA Basketball head coach. "To win like that, we dropped down four but we had the mental character to come back. What a win! This has been the ultimate...the cap on my coaching career. It makes it all complete.
"When they named me the coach in 2002, these three players (Lisa Leslie, Dawn Staley, Sheryl Swoopes) bought into everything I tried to bring to the table. I find it unbelievable that we were doing break down defensive drills on Thursday before we played on Friday and nobody said a word. I knew they were unhappy when I subbed them (in the game tonight), but I wanted to have them for the last five minutes. That's why I subbed when I did and that's why I brought them back when I did. They didn't say a thing to me, they might have griped among themselves, but they didn't say anything to me. That's been a great part of our team."
It took just over 30 minutes before the USA's strength and depth finally wore down the Australians. The Americans and Aussies battled throughout the first half with the United States owning a 17-14 lead after the first quarter and a 29-26 edge at the half.
The second half began with a Penny Taylor 3-pointer and after just over three minutes of play the Australians were in the lead 34-30. By 5:44 the Opals still held a four-point advantage 38-34. Staley accounted for five points in a 7-0 run as the squad forced a pair of turnovers and two missed shots by the Aussies to regain the lead 41-38. However, it was Australia's turn to rally and with 1:25 to play in the quarter the Opals again held their largest margin in the game, 49-45.
Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury) drained a three and following Lauren Jackson 1-of-2 from the line. Shannon Johnson (San Antonio Silver Stars) stepped to the stripe with 10:31 to play in the game. She nailed both of her shots to even the score at 50 apiece. Australia's next trip down the court saw Leslie step out to block a Suzy Batkovic 3-point attempt. With the ball back in the USA's hands and the third quarter clock running down Johnson drove to the basket to give the Americans a 52-50 edge at the third buzzer. The U.S. never again fell behind.
With 8:27 to go before the medal ceremony and the U.S. up by three, 54-51, Johnson again came up big. She scored the game's next four points in a USA7-0 run to help expand the lead to 10, 61-51. The WNBA Phoenix Mercury's Taylor scored with 5:23 to play, marking her team's first field goal since the 1:25 mark in the third. After a Johnson jumper that again gave the U.S. a 10-point cushion (63-53), the Aussies went on a 6-3 spurt to pull within seven, 66-59, with 2:25 to go.
But the U.S. core was not rattled and neither were its newcomers. Tina Thompson (Houston Comets) got the ball inside to Leslie to make it 68-59 at 2:08. The USA's smothering defense wouldn't allow Taylor to get off a good shot on the other end and Leslie came up with the rebound. Australia's Kristi Harrower picked up her fourth foul of the game, sending Staley to the line. Calmly swishing both shots with 1:37 to play, Staley gave her squad an 11-point lead (70-59), deflating Australia's hopes of an upset.
Lauren Jackson hit a pair of free throws, but Staley put the nail in the coffin after driving to the basket with 32 seconds to go. She then picked up her final pair of points at the line with 17 seconds remaining as the red, white and blue went out in a blaze of golden glory.
"I feel like I still have some offense left in me," said Staley. "It shows up every now and again. Fortunately, tonight, I hit a couple buckets. My teammates were looking for me.
"Lisa gave me the ball down low, and she's never done that before in 16 years," she chuckled.
Thompson led the team's efforts with 18 points. Staley notched all 14 of her points in the second half, Leslie finished with 13 and Johnson scored 12 in the balanced effort. Leslie grabbed a team best eight rebounds as the U.S. capped the Games with its eight consecutive game of outrebounding its opponents (34-30).
The USA's defense held 2003 WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson, who finished the 2004 Olympics as the Games' scoring leader (22.9 ppg.) to just 12 points. However, she managed to grab a game best 14 rebounds. Taylor scored a team high 16 points and Harrower added 11.
The United States shot 45.9 percent (28-62 FGs) from the field and held Australia to just 36.4 percent (24-66) overall and a frigid 12.5 percent (3-24 3pt FGs) from 3-point.
The USA was without the services of Katie Smith (Minnesota Lynx), who tore cartilage in her right knee during the Aug. 22 game against China.
With the victory over Australia, the U.S. upped its Olympic winning streak to 25 games, dating back to the 1992 bronze medal contest. The USA now owns a 42-3 overall record (.933 winning percentage) in Olympic play and has won a record five golds, one silver and one bronze medal in the seven Olympic basketball competitions in which the U.S. competed. The United States, which earned the silver medal at the inaugural Olympic women's basketball tournament in 1976, earned its first gold at the 84 Games in Los Angeles, collected gold again in Seoul in 88, and captured the last three golds with unblemished 8-0 records in the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympics.