LONDON — Expected to dominate, they did.
All those style points were a bonus.
The U.S. women’s basketball team routed France 86-50 in the final Saturday, winning their fifth straight Olympic gold medal and putting more distance between themselves and the rest of the world heading to Rio for the 2016 Games.
Candace Parker scored 21 points, including eight straight during the game-changing run in the second quarter as the U.S. took command of the game.
“It’s not easy to just be put together and be expected to win a gold medal,” said guard Diana Taurasi. “It’s a special feeling.”
The win was the latest in this dominant run that the Americans have been on over the past 16 years. The U.S. has now won 41 consecutive games in the Olympics since taking the bronze medal in 1992.
The Americans haven’t just been winning, they’ve been blowing past opponents. Only one team has come within single digits of them since the streak started in 1996. They’ve won by nearly 30 points a game. The U.S. has only lost once in major international competitions since 1996, against Russia in the semifinals of the 2006 world championship.
The names change on the U.S. uniforms, but the results don’t.
Teresa Edwards, Dawn Staley, Sheryl Swoopes and Lisa Leslie got the amazing run started and now Taurasi, Sue Bird and Tamika Catchings have continued it.
With young stars Parker, Maya Moore and Tina Charles a big part of the success in London it doesn’t look like the run will end anytime soon.
Catchings said the Americans “just wanted to keep that legacy going.”
Edwards, a five-time Olympian, said no worry there.
“The legacy is real,” said Edwards, who had a front-row seat Saturday night. “What these kids have been doing is amazing. Without much time to practice. In the middle of the WNBA season. And they look good. It’s like the whole world knows who we are. I’m really proud of them.
“They’re definitely among some of the best” U.S. teams.
The U.S. faced its only challenge of the London Games when Australia took a four-point halftime lead. It was the first time in 12 years that the Americans had been trailing at the half. There was no panic or worry. They just stepped up their defense and vanquished the Aussies, winning by 13 points.
France, which came into the gold medal game unbeaten, stayed with the U.S. for the first 12 minutes before Parker took over. She scored eight straight points during a 13-2 run that gave the U.S. a 37-23 advantage. Twice the 6-foot-4 Parker grabbed the rebound on the defensive end and dribble up through the defense scoring on the other.
While Parker — who also had 11 rebounds — was providing the offense, the Americans turned up their defense, holding France to just one basket over the final 7:25 of the half.
“We always felt like as long as we played our best … we’d be all right,” Bird said.
The U.S. led by 12 at the half and poured it on in the third quarter. France was able to get within 41-31 but the U.S. ended the French’s hope of the monumental upset, scoring 13 of the next 14 points.
On one sequence, Catchings got a steal, passed it to Bird, who hit Moore in perfect stride for a finger-roll lay-in down the lane. It only got worse from there for France, which was making its Olympic debut.
The silver medal was the first for France. French women’s basketball has been on the rise over the past few years.
The victory over Russia in the semifinals set off a wild celebration for the unbeaten French, who have been on the rise in women’s basketball over the past few years. They won the European Championship in 2009 and qualified for the Olympics for the first time since the 2000 Sydney Games where they finished fifth. In this tournament France has already defeated Australia in an overtime thriller and now topped Russia twice.
A win over the Americans would have been incredible.
The French had been led by flashy point guard Celine Dumerc. She has been the catalyst for this remarkable run. Her 3-pointer with 0.2 seconds remaining in overtime helped beat Britain in the preliminary round. She also hit a big 3-pointer against Australia and two clinching free throws in the team’s four-point win over Canada.
The Americans bottled her up. Her only field goal in the first half got France within 24-21 before the U.S. turned up its defense. She finished with just eight points.
With the victory, Moore joined an exclusive club. She’s just the seventh player to win titles in college, the WNBA, the FIBA world championship and the Olympics. Teammates Bird, Taurasi, and Swin Cash are already members.
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