Flashback: 1996 USA Men's Olympic Basketball Team Eliminates Australia 101-73, Advances to Gold Medal Game
Two-time Olympian Charles Barkley led the U.S. Olympic Men's Basketball Team to the gold medal game with a 24-point, 11-rebound effort, as the USA eliminated Australia 101-73 in front of 34,069 fans on Aug. 1 at the Georgia Dome.
The win, the USA's seventh of the '96 Games, also marked the 100th victory in Olympic competition for the U.S. and assured the Americans a spot in the gold medal game. Boasting of a near perfect 100-2 overall record in Olympic play, the U.S. has won 10 Olympic gold medals in the 12 Olympics in which it has participated.
"This is the best team we've played in this tournament, from a cohesion and heart standpoint," commented Barkley. "Contrary to what you may like to believe, I actually liked the game tonight. We had to play. I did not think they could keep it up for 40 minutes, but I knew this game was going to be competitive for 10 minutes to at least half. I was very proud of this team (the USA), we kept it up for 40 minutes. Man, we had to play tonight."
Australia, which fell 118-77 to the U.S. in a July 12 exhibition game, jumped out to an early 5-1 lead at the 18:27 mark and continued to remain competitive with the USA as the teams swapped leads throughout the opening half's first 13:38.
The U.S. took the lead from Australia for good on a Shaquille O'Neal backboard rattling dunk that gave the U.S. a 35-34 advantage with 6:22 to play in the half. O'Neal made one of two free throws to push the U.S. lead to 36-34, then Australia's Shane Heal hit a jumper to knot the score at 36 apiece with 5:31 remaining. That was as close as the Aussies would get. Behind five points from Anfernee Hardaway and four from Mitch Richmond, the United States went on a 11-3 run that put the U.S. ahead 47-39 with 1:43 to go in the first half. The U.S. capped the first half by scoring the final four points to earn a 51- 41 lead at halftime.
Behind four points from Barkley, the USA opened the second half with a 7-2 scoring run to take a 15 point, 58-43, advantage with 15:56 remaining in the contest. The U.S. continued to increase its lead through the remainder of the game and cruised to the 101-73 victory.
The USA outmatched the Aussies on the glass 53-31 but made just 46.9% (38-81 FGs) of its shots from the field and made only 21.1% (4-19 3pt FGs) from 3-point range. Australia struggled with its shooting as well, hitting a frigid 32.8% (20-61 FGs) from the floor overall, but 42.1% (8-19 3pt FGs) of its 3-point tries.
In addition to Barkley's strong performance, the USA was aided to the win by David Robinson, 14 points and nine rebounds, O'Neal, 14 points and eight rebounds and Hardaway, 14 points. Scottie Pippen recorded six points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
Australia's Andrew Gaze, who tallied 21 points in the first half alone, finished with a game-high 25 points, and Heal added 19 points, hitting 4-of-5 3-point field goals.
The USA will face Yugoslavia (7-0), 66-58 victors over Lithuania in Thursday's other semifinal game, in the gold medal game on August 3 at the Georgia Dome. Australia will face Lithuania in Saturday's bronze medal game.
"We came here for one goal and if we don't accomplish that it would be a failure for us," said Barkley. "We're representing the United States of America and we want to prove that we're the best basketball playing team in the world. I think the guys are excited and ready to play one more game."
"We're excited about it (the gold medal game). I've watched Yugoslavia play now for five or six years and I know their players,” said USA head coach Lenny Wilkens. “We'll go through our scouting report with the team and we'll be ready to come out. We're looking forward to the game.”
In other Olympic action Thursday, Greece thrashed China 115-75 and Brazil downed Croatia 80-74. On Friday, August 3, Greece and Brazil will play for fifth and sixth place, while China and Croatia will play for seventh and eighth place.