U.S. Women Go For Gold After Claiming 66-62 Win Over Russia
August 25, 2004 Athens, Greece
In a defensive contest, the U.S. Women's Olympic Basketball Team (7-0) fought off Russia (6-1) 66-62 Friday afternoon to earn a trip to the Olympic gold medal game on Saturday. Tina Thompson (Houston Comets) led the USA's balanced scoring attack with 14 points, while Lisa Leslie (Los Angeles Sparks) and Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever) each tallied 11 points, and Yolanda Griffith (Sacramento Monarchs) finished with 10 points. Also unbeaten Australia (7-0) defeated Brazil (4-3) 88-75 in the day's other semifinal, setting up a rematch of the 2000 Olympic gold medal game. The teams will clash for gold on Saturday at 9:15 a.m. (EDT) as the U.S. looks to claim its third straight gold.
"What a basketball game," said USA and Houston Comets head coach Van Chancellor, who now owns a 37-0 record as a USA Basketball head coach. "Russia did a great job, their coach had a tremendous game plan. They played well, but I'm proud of the USA for finding a way to win. Rebounding and defense won that one for us today. Thank goodness for Sheryl Swoopes (Houston Comets). She says that for seven years she's made me into a fair coach and now here at the Olympics she's made me into another one. She thinks she's carried me. Today there's a lot of truth to that. She had two big time baskets down at the end."
In what was expected to be a very tight game, the USA and Russia did not disappoint the fans.
The U.S. never held more than a nine point lead and after a pair of Catchings free throws with 7:20 to play in the game, the United States was up 59-50. However, Oxana Rakhmatulina scored all eight of her points in the game, including a pair of 3-pointers, during an 8-1 run in to cut it to 60-58 with 4:23 to go.
Enter two-time Olympic gold medalist Swoopes.
With the shot clock winding down on the USA's end, Swoopes pulled up and sunk her first basket of the game. Following a Russia miss, Swoopes got the rebound and got her second bucket in a 37-second span to lift the American women up 64-58 with 3:15 left in the contest.
"That's kind of her," said Swoopes' Houston Comet teammate Thompson. "She has a little switch she just turns on you know at the end of the game and you can just count on her taking and making big shots like that. It's just a part of her personality and I wasn't surprised she was hitting them."
Rakhmatulina tossed the ball away and after working the ball up the court, Leslie fed a pass to Thompson and the USA had some breathing room, 66-58, at 2:40. The Russians scored on their next possession with less than two minutes remaining, and with 1:40 on the clock Thompson's shot bounced off the rim. Swoopes was there to pick up the rebound. After using the clock Catchings' attempt didn't fall and as both teams fought for the carom a jump ball was whistled.
The possession arrow was turned in Russia's favor. However, defensive pressure by Swoopes and Thompson forced Elena Baranova to travel and the U.S. took control of the basketball and virtually had the game in hand with only 48 seconds to play in the semifinal. Russia managed a layup with one second on the clock, but it made no difference in the final outcome.
The U.S., which held a 16-15 lead at the end of the first quarter, saw Russia grab a 17-16 edge to start the second quarter. The Americans recaptured the lead for good, 19-17, on a Thompson 3-pointer. By halftime the U.S. was up 37-33 and at the beginning of the final stanza the advantage was 51-44.
For the seventh time in as many games, the United States was ahead in the rebounding department (28-24), but Russia was the closest competitor on the glass the U.S. has faced. Both squads scored 30 points in the paint, the United States tallied 12 second chance points, while the Russians chalked up 11 fast break points.
In the morning classification games, the Czech Republic (4-3) finished in fifth place after defeating Spain (4-3) 79-68 and Greece (3-4) defeated New Zealand (2-5) 87-83 in the seventh place game.
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 Russia, the U.S. upped its Olympic winning streak to 22 games, dating back to the 1992 bronze medal contest. The USA now owns a 41-3 overall record (.932 winning percentage) in Olympic play and has won a record four golds, one silver and one bronze medal in the six previous 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 back-to-back golds with unblemished 8-0 records in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics.