Having seen her team vanquished utterly and completely, just like the previous 48 to face the United States in women’s basketball in the Olympics, Spain’s Laia Palau issued a grim warning to the rest of the world.
“They are getting better every time,” Palau said.
Is that even possible? It’s a frightening thought.
The women’s reign of complete and utter dominance of the sport continued Saturday with a 101-72 win over Spain, completing an Olympics in which they were barely challenged on their way to a sixth straight gold medal. Spain held a narrow lead late in the first quarter before the United States pulled away with ease, as it always does.
The smallest margin of victory was 19, in a semifinal win over Spain without star guard Sue Bird. The average margin of victory was twice that. The United States scored 100 points in six out of its eight games in Brazil. It has won 49 straight Olympic games. It may be the best women’s basketball team ever to take the court.
“It’s been amazing what we’ve done,” said Diana Taurasi, the leading U.S. scorer at 15.6 points per game. “To do that every game, to play that hard no matter if the score is 10 or 40, that takes a lot of character from all these people. We could have easily gone in there and won games by 10 or eight, but this team was different. This team had a mindset that I’ve never been on before.”
The United States has been so good for so long that three players on this team won their first gold medals in Athens – Bird, Taurasi and Tamika Catchings – now join a select group of female Olympians who have won four straight in the same event. How select? It grew from four to seven Saturday night.
They entered alongside another member of that club, Lisa Leslie, in 2004. They picked up where she left off. Now this team’s first-time medalists, stars already – Elena Delle Donne, Brittney Griner and Breanna Stewart – will face the same challenge in 2020 and beyond, assuming this was the final Olympics for Bird, Catchings and Taurasi, and perhaps Geno Auriemma as well, having guided the United States to gold in 2012 and 2016.
It’s easy to take this sustained excellence for granted, but there’s always the example of the U.S. women’s soccer team, which had never lost before the semifinals of a major tournament but went home with no medal at all after a quarterfinal loss to Sweden. The women’s basketball team never entertained the thought.
“It wasn’t as easy as sometimes it looked,” Auriemma said, but it looked so easy so often.
Amid the occasional debate over whether this American dominance is good for the sport, it’s important to recognize that it does not come easily.
“You can talk about the 100-point games and the margin of victory, but we played our butts off,” Bird said. “We really did. I don’t think I’ve ever been around a group this talented that played this hard.”
It was that combination, of talent and effort, that enabled this team to make its case as perhaps the best ever to take the court – although if their opponents are to be believed, perhaps the best is still yet to come.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock