US women’s basketball team seeking seventh straight gold
The U.S. women’s basketball team has earned the chance to match a historic hoops accomplishment not achieved at the Olympics since their male counterparts pulled off the feat more than 50 years ago.
The U.S. squad can win its seventh consecutive gold medal in women’s basketball in the championship game Sunday morning (which will be 10:30 p.m. EDT on Saturday night) against host nation Japan. The American men previously copped seven consecutive golds, from 1936 in Berlin through the 1968 Games in Mexico City.
“This is exactly where we want to be, so now everything is on the line,” former Connecticut star Breanna Stewart said after a 79-59 semifinal win over Serbia on Friday. “Right now there is so much pressure going for seven straight, that you kind of get lost in what’s actually happening and not enjoying being at the Olympics, and I think we did that. We came out and we had fun.”
U.S. coach Dawn Staley, the former WNBA star and basketball Hall of Famer who now coaches at South Carolina, believes losing two pre-Olympic exhibition games in Las Vegas in July — one against a team of WNBA stars and another against the Australian national team — served as a wake-up call for her star-laden squad, which features six first-time Olympians.
“If you look at what took place from the beginning of the month to where we are now, and the progression that’s taken place, we find ourselves where we wanted to be,” Staley said Friday on a Zoom call. “No matter how hard it was to swallow dropping those two games in Vegas, which seems like a long, long time ago, to be competing for a gold medal is rewarding. But we still have to get the job done.
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“I just feel like once we hit the quarterfinals, our players really looked different. There’s a different focus. There’s a different dynamic for this. That is, we don’t want to lose. We’re here. We wanted to compete for a gold medal, and if we don’t win, we don’t do that. … That’s what the moment takes on when you’re competing for a gold medal.”
The American women have won 54 consecutive Olympic contests, beginning with a bronze-medal victory over Cuba in 1992 in Barcelona, following their most-recent defeat in the semifinals against the Unified Team.
“Legacy. It’s a standard that USA Basketball has set,” point guard Chelsea Gray said via Zoom following the team’s rematch win over Australia in the quarterfinals. “There’s a lot of great people who have come through this program, some that are still playing.
“But it’s definitely a legacy, a standard that is set, and achieving excellence. That’s the level we have to play at.”
Longtime star guards and former UConn teammates Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird, a Long Island product, would earn their fifth consecutive gold medals with a win over Japan. The 39-year-old Taurasi, who was hampered by a hip injury in Friday’s win over Serbia, and the 40-year-old Bird were teammates with Staley on the gold-winning 2004 U.S. team in Athens.
“Everybody here wants to win gold for them, for us, for everybody that started this streak and got us here,” Brittney Griner said.
“We’re all aware of it,” Stewart added. “Sue and D, what they’ve done for USA Basketball is extremely special. The fact they’re going for five straight golds is insane, and the rest of us, we want to make sure we put them in the best possible position to get that gold.”