|USA Claims Bronze Medal With Dominating 99-59 Victory Over Brazil|
It was not the color of medal the 2006 USA Women's World Championship Team (8-1) came to collect. But faced with a bronze or nothing the U.S. refused to go home empty-handed and dominated host Brazil (5-4) from the beginning for a 99-59 victory. Diana Taurasi's (Phoenix Mercury) 28 points in just 16 minutes led the U.S. in Saturday morning's bronze medal game at Ibirapuera Arena in Sao Paulo, Brazil, as all members of the squad scored for the fifth time in nine games.
The bronze medal game is scheduled to be replayed at midnight (EDT) on FSN. Australia (8-0) and Russia (5-3) will square off in the 1:00 p.m. (EDT) gold medal game.
The United States now owns an 88-21 all-time record in World Championship play and has won a record seven golds, as well as one silver and two bronze medals in 14 Worlds dating back to the first World Championship in 1953.
"We knew we had to bounce back," said USA and Seattle Storm head coach Anne Donovan. "We knew that not just Brazil would be ready, but we knew the fans would be ready. We knew we had to be ready to play a great game, so our mental preparation and our emotional preparation had to be high. I give a lot of credit to the girls. They came in knowing that it was going to be very hostile and we had to match up. Brazil's been playing such good basketball. We knew we had to come out and play our best game in order to walk away with the bronze."
Taurasi's 28 points tied Denise Curry (vs. China, 7/28/83) as the fourth most points scored by a U.S. player in a World Championship game and after shooting a blistering 6-of-7 from beyond the arc Taurasi surpassed teammate Katie Smith (Detroit Shock) (5 vs. France, 9/20/02) and Ruthie Bolton (5 vs. New Zealand,6/04/94) for most 3-pointers made, while also tying the record for most attempts, a feat that has been done three different times.
"Individually you could talk about it being a very good night," said Taurasi. "But as a team we learned a lot about ourselves. We came off of a tough loss to Russia, who played a great game, hats off to them they deserved it. This morning we knew it was going to be a very difficult game against a wonderful Brazilian team, with Janeth (Arcain) and Izi (Marques) we knew it was going to be tough. Our focus was the highest it's been all tournament, which is a testament to the coaches for getting us prepared."
The U.S. was on fire to start the game, hitting 5-of-6 from 3-point, with two apiece from Taurasi and Tina Thompson (Houston Comets) to jump out to a 25-16 lead at 3:19. Taurasi scored 10 of the team's first 14 points and the North Americans collected the quarter's final five points, the last coming off a Smith three with five seconds on the clock, to go up 31-21 at the first period break.
Brazil stuck around for much of the second quarter as each time the U.S. began to pull away, the hosts would stab back and with 3:48 left before the break it was still a 10 point game, 42-32. A steal by Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever) forced Brazil to foul and her two free throws at 3:13 began a 7-2 run that closed the half with the United States up 49-34.
While the USA's offense was nearly unstoppable in the first 10 minutes of play, the second was a stellar defensive show. The team had five steals on six Brazilian turnovers and held Brazil to 4-of-10 from the field, 1-of-5 from 3-point alone.
Taurasi, who played just over seven minutes in the first half because of two fouls, started the second half the same way she began the game by hitting a 3-pointer 14 seconds into it. She ended up scoring seven points in a 13-5 run as the U.S. spent the first 2:26 of the third quarter expanding its lead to 62-39.
Brazil called a timeout to regroup and managed to score a pair of buckets to the USA's one, but at 5:49 the U.S. lead was 21 points, 64-43. That's when Taurasi kicked-off her highlight reel. Starting at 5:33 and in just under a two-minute span she rained a trio of threes on Brazil in her own 11-2 scoring spree that left the hosts reeling 75-45 with 13:43 left in the game. That was all that was needed to put the game away and quiet the crowd as the United States finished the quarter up 83-45 and closed out the morning with the bronze medal.
"I think for us this was an emotional game," said Sue Bird (Seattle Storm). "We didn't want to leave without a medal. But also going against a Brazil team who has 10,000 people cheering for them on their home soil and they don't want to leave without a medal. So it was a very emotional game. I think for us we just calmed down, we played the way we wanted to play, we played the way we normally play and "D" (Diana Taurasi) was just ridiculous in the second half and opened it up for us."
In addition to Taurasi's offensive show, the U.S. received 15 points and seven rebounds from Thompson, Catchings had 11 points and was one rebound shy of a double-double after grabbing nine, Candace Parker (Tennessee / Naperville, Ill.) scored 10 points and grabbed six boards, and Bird dished out five assists.
Brazil was led by four-time WNBA champion with the Houston Comets Janeth Arcain, whose national team experience dates to the 1990 World Championship and includes a gold at the 1994 Worlds and silver at the 1996 Olympics. She scored 16 points against the United States and announced following the game her retirement from national team play and her desire to play one more season in the WNBA.
Alessandra Olivera, who averaged a team second best 13.8 ppg. and a team high 8.6 rpg. through Brazil's first eight games, wore a sling on her left arm and watched from the bench.
Three-time Olympic gold medalist Sheryl Swoopes (Houston Comets), who won a bronze at the 1994 Worlds and gold in 2002, also played in her final World Championship game.
"They are two of the all-time greats," stated Donovan. "Janeth, it's great to see her again, we've missed her in the WNBA. I'm sorry to hear that she's talking about (playing) just one more year because she's still got game, obviously. We were actually talking about that, the coaching staff in warm-ups, trying to figure out how much more she could go. As an opponent, I'll be happy to see (her) retire, but as somebody who admires (her) game so much, stick with it you have so much.
"I can't say enough about Sheryl. She's been injured, was questionable on this trip and yet she decided to come. She wasn't able to perform the way we know she can perform, but her leadership was second to no one. Being the captain of this team, in particular due to the loss to Russia and being able to come back with such focus, I thought Sheryl was instrumental throughout this tournament in how well we played."
Donovan was assisted at the 2006 FIBA World Championship by 2006 WNBA Coach of the Year Mike Thibault of the Connecticut Sun and collegiate head coaches Gail Goestenkors of Duke University (N.C.) and Dawn Staley of Temple University (Pa.).
"I would be telling a story if I said I'm satisfied," said Thompson. "I'm okay with our effort and the fact that we left with momentum and on a good note, but we have a lot of work to do and we have a job that is unfinished that needs to be done. Next summer we're going to have to come out and get after it. But I think the effort more than anything else I'm proud of. I don't know if I could necessarily say I'm happy to get a bronze medal. I'm not at all especially in my first World Championship. But things happen and it was a good learning experience for us and we'll grow from it."