By Charean Williams, McClatchy Newspapers –
LONDON — Yawn if you’ve heard this one before: The U.S. women’s basketball team won a gold medal.
They did it with an 86-50 victory over France that says as much about where the game is today as it does about how good the Americans are. The world is not catching up to them.
“We beat a really good team, but we’re a great team,” U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said.
Team USA didn’t even have its best player for the Olympics as Baylor All-American Brittney Griner chose not to play. Still, of the Americans’ eight games, only Australia made it even mildly interesting in the final quarter as Team USA beat the Aussies 86-73 in the semifinals after trailing by four at halftime.
On Saturday night against France, the U.S. led 37-25 at intermission before going on a 19-0 run in the third quarter.
Team USA won its eight games by an average of 34.4 points per game.
“I think people definitely expect this of us,” said guard Sue Bird, who scored 11 points against France. “They see the scores and potentially why they might not tune in, because they expect it. The one thing I will say is that people don’t realize how hard it is to be that consistent. It’s not easy. If we don’t play well, we’re going to lose. If we don’t play well tonight, we lose. These teams, all they want to do is beat us. Every team we play is giving us their best game. I think you saw that a lot in some of the first quarters of our pool play. These teams come out, and they’re just ready. The problem is: We kind of wear them down because of our talent.”
The best team the U.S. starters face every Olympics is the one in their practice gym. The Americans’ 12 players are better than any other player on any other team.
The International Olympic Committee might look as unkindly at the Americans’ powerhouse in women’s basketball as it did softball, which was eliminated, along with baseball, after 2008 in part because of the U.S.’s domination. But as long as the NBA keeps sending the Dream Team, women’s basketball has a safe haven.
“I don’t see them not having basketball, because it is such a big draw for the men and for the women,” said forward Tamika Catchings, who is from Duncanville.
The so-called Dream Team will play its gold medal game before a packed house at North Greenwich Arena on Sunday. It draws so much media attention that the IOC is ticketing the event for the press because of space limitations.
On Saturday night, the arena was mostly full for the real Dream Team, and the media contingent was bigger than it has been. The Guardian, a local newspaper, had it just right with its headline this week: Always winning, always ignored.
The Americans now have five consecutive gold medals. They have not lost since winning the bronze medal in 1992, which puts the streak at 41 and counting.
They are one of the most dominate teams in Olympic history, and one of the most unappreciated.
“We know how hard we have to work to make it look easy,” Auriemma said. “We take great pride in our basketball program. The expectation is to win, and we take it very seriously.”
The Americans insist their excitement for winning hasn’t been lost in the winning, but it was sometimes hard to tell Saturday night. Sure, they smiled and hugged and high-fived and held hands. A few, those who realize it might be their last Olympics, even choked up on the medal stand.
But it wasn’t the unadulterated joy that Carmelita Jeter showed after she and her teammates won the 4×100. Or the tears that South Africa’s Chad le Clos wept after upsetting Michael Phelps in the 200 fly. Or the jig that Misty May-Treanor danced after her final Olympic gold.
It was just another win in a long line of wins.
“We came over here for a goal, and that was to win the gold,” Catchings said. “We took care of business.”
Another Olympics, another gold.