Six former UConn stars and UConn head coach Geno Auriemma will be returning from London with gold medals after the United States women's basketball team won its fifth straight Olympic gold medal with a 86-50 win over previously undefeated France on Saturday.
Former Tennessee star Candace Parker led the U.S. with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Former UConn stars Sue Bird (11 points, three assists) and Diana Taurasi (nine points, six assists) also played starring roles as they won their third consecutive gold medal. Former Huskies Maya Moore (six points, seven rebounds), Asjha Jones (four points), Tina Charles (four points) and Swin Cash (three points) were also members of the U.S. squad.
It is the second gold medal for Cash while Moore, Charles and Jones were first time Olympians. It is also the second gold medal for Auriemma, who was an assistant coach on the 2000 squad (even if he doesn't actually receive medals).
The overall tournament scoring champions were former Cheshire Academy star Johannah Leedham of Great Britain as well as Brazil's Erika de Souza who each averaged 16.2 points per game. Taurasi finished as the top scorer for the United States as she averaged 12.4 points a contest.
Here are the stats for the six former UConn stars
Bird: 6.1 points, team-leading 4.5 assists
Charles: 10.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists
Cash: 3.3 points, 1.4 rebounds
Jones: 3.1 points, 1.7 rebounds
Moore: 9.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.5 steals
Taurasi: 12.4 points, 3 rebounds, 2.9 assists (had 15 of the U.S. 32 3-pointers)
Proving it was a team-first approach, there were no U.S. among the tournament's top 10 scorers however here is where the U.S. players ranked in other categories
Rebounds: Candace Parker 4th; Charles 5th
Assists: Bird 2nd
Steals: Angel McCoughtry 2nd; Tamika Catchings 6th; Moore 8th
Blocks: Parker 7th
FG percentage: Parker 6th
3-point percentage: Taurasi 9th
Double-doubles: Charles and Parker tied for 1st
Here are quotes from Auriemma and the six former Huskies courtesy of USA Basketball.
You know, you go into every game thinking that there’s going to be some things that you have to do, and if you do those things you’re going to have a chance you can win it. You know, France was probably playing as well as anytime I’ve ever seen them, since I’ve been the coach anyway. And when you’re going into it the way they’re playing, they got a lot of confidence. And we tried to really disrupt them and get them into the kind of game they weren’t comfortable playing, and I think we did that right from the beginning. When Candace Parker came in the game, the game changed completely. You know, I thought she was the biggest difference in the game tonight. We all just kind of took that and ran with it. We beat a really good team, but we’re a great team.
On why Candace Parker shined tonight:
You know, as coaches we know a lot about a lot of things, but that’s a question I can’t answer. I think that Candace (Parker) would be better able to answer that question. Candace has a lot of skills, and some nights she really tries to use them and other nights she forgets the kind of skills that she has. Luckily for us, tonight she remembered.
On if this is the best U.S. Women’s team to-date:
You know, I hate to say it was the best; it’s like comparing your children because I didn’t coach those other teams. If I did, I would probably say yeah, this was the best because you always get attached to the one you’re coaching. I’m sure every other coach thought that the team they coached was a great team, but you know, the United States has had unbelievably great teams since 1996 and I think we’re just another one on the list. Down the road if people want to make those comparisons, you know, it’s okay, but right now we accomplished the same thing they did, so I don’t know that that separates us from them. I think it just makes us equal with them.
On the French team:
Sometimes a team just finds itself during a tournament, and I thought the French team was the team of the tournament. I think if you take us out of the tournament, honestly I’m partial to our team; I thought France was the team of the tournament. The way they played consistently from day one all the way to the end, and I thought Celine (Dumerc) was the most important player and the most impactful player in the tournament, and I just want to say congratulations.
On the competitiveness of women’s basketball to U.S. fans versus sports like soccer and gymnastics:
Yeah, I mean, you can’t apologize for being really good. The reason they don’t think there’s any competition is because they don’t have to be here playing. We know what the competition is, we know how good these other teams are, and we know how hard we have to work to make it look easy, because it’s not as easy as it looks. We do what we do in the United States and we take great pride in our basketball program. It doesn’t matter who the coach is, it doesn’t matter who the players are, there’s a certain level of expectation when you coach and play for USA Basketball. That expectation is to win, and we take it very seriously. Maybe in those other sports, there isn’t that same expectation in the United States that you’re going to win all the time, but we’re not going to start losing just to make them feel better back home.
On what he appreciated about this experience:
You know, I appreciate how smart some of these coaches are over here. Everybody has this impression that because we invented the game, that we’re the only ones who know how to coach it. I’ve been unbelievably impressed with how much you have to prepare to beat these guys because, because like Celine (Dumerc) said, they spent every summer together for five years. We’ve been together 10 days, 12 days of practice, so they know exactly what they’re doing and they know how to do it, and they capitalized on their mistakes. They have great strategies; they have great schemes on offense; they know how to use their players. I’ve been really, really impressed. And again, if you took our team out of the tournament – if you took our team out of the tournament and took Angola out, the top team in the tournament and the team that lost probably by the biggest margins – if you took those two teams out, you’d have a hard time separating the other 10. So, that’s a heck of a tournament – it really, really was. I’ve been impressed with the level of play every single night out.
On what he learned from this team:
You know what the funny thing is about professional basketball players? They think they’re smarter than you are. That just boggles my mind, because, if they were, why would USA Basketball have coaches? So, I’m constantly amazed by some of them, how much they think they know. It’s a warning for me, as a college coach, to see that no matter how good some of these players are that play professionally, they need coaching. They need direction, and you know what, the great ones want direction. They want to be kind of guided and driven to another place. I always thought that, but this kind of proved it to me – that idea that pros have you go step on each others toes, don’t like to be told what to do, don’t like to be coached. I’ve found just the opposite – they think they don’t want it, they think they’re really smart, they think what they’re saying makes sense. I wish I could tape them and play it back to them, so hopefully they learned something, and I know for a fact that I learned something – no question.
On the relationship between the men’s and women’s USA Basketball teams:
You know, the players probably have the most respect for each other of anybody else. They know exactly what each other has to do to be prepared and what it took to get here. So, the players on the men’s team, they probably appreciate the women’s team more than anybody back in America. I know that our players appreciate and interact with the guy’s players like they’re peers. Part of that is because we’re all Team USA and the other part is because I think they respect each other’s talents. So, that’s been great. It’s really been a lot of fun for me to watch. I know Coach (Jim) Boeheim really well – he and his wife Juli – so that’s been really easy for me and my staff. I got to know Coach (Mike) D’Antoni a few years back, so getting reconnected with him is great, and I’ve known Coach (Mike) Krzyzewski for a long time. For me, we’re just one team – Team USA. We’re not men’s basketball and women’s basketball, we’re Team USA.
On what this gold medal means:
This team was so talented and so deep and it really felt like we had the shortest training camp of any other Olympics that I’ve been in. They are all short, but this one seemed extra short. So for us to kind of put it together the way we did it’s very, very gratifying and for me it is my third and in a sense nothing really beats your first, but at the same time my role has really changed and I’ve had to become one of the older players, a veteran, a leader, and to have that evolution occur and to be where I am now, it feels good to win this one as well.
On whether it was important to create her own shot:
As a point guard you’ve got to take what the defense gives, especially on this team where there is so much talent … it’s the easiest job in the world, let’s be honest. I basically have to pass to the best shooters and the best post players that there are and let them go to work. But occasionally openings do happen for me too and I have to be ready to knock them down because as a point guard I can score as well, as well as Lindsay can.
On what the key was to handling adversity:
I think our depth is by far the biggest key for us. We are able to wear teams down. Not very many teams go 12 deep and with that over a two-week tournament, these teams they have to play a lot of minutes ... seven, eight players play a lot of minutes and I think none of us have to. So we are just able to wear teams down and by the end for the most part you can see, teams get tired and that’s where we really capitalize.
On how tonight was different from other games in the tournament:
I think it was business as usual. I think we all understood what the task was at hand, and the expectation. I think Coach (Auriemma) just really summed it up. He was saying that people come and play in these games for a reason, you know, and there wasn’t much needed to be said up to this point.
On what Coach Auriemma said to the players after the game:
Just that he was really thankful that all of the coaching staff and everybody who don’t usually get to experience this big moment were able to be a part of it.
On the performance of Candace Parker:
I thought it was great. I thought she was just being Candace and playing at a high level and I was really proud of her.
On what the gold medal means for the country and for women’s basketball:
It means everything. It means they put a great group of 12 girls together to go out there and get the job done and we did.
On what it means for her:
It’s awesome. It’s everything. I don’t even think it hit me yet.
On the game vs. France:
We just came out with a determination to get the gold tonight. I think just every game that we played, every practice that we had all put it together in this game and we dominated France.
Did you ever think a gold medal game would go like this?
I never even envisioned winning a gold medal. I never envisioned being on an Olympic team but with hard work and perseverance, just me having my faith, I was able to get it done.
Has it hit you yet what you accomplished?
It still hasn’t. Maybe tonight when I sleep and wake up with it on my neck, I’ll feel it.
How was the gold medal ceremony for you?
It was really cool. That moment was really epic. When I was watching Lisa Leslie and them, when they stepped up all together, have their hands up and wave. That was really nice.
On winning the gold with some of her college teammates and college coach:
It’s amazing; it’s an amazing feeling. I’m just really proud to be here, proud to be a part of all it. And just excited to watch how well we played all together.
On her thoughts when she received the gold medal:
I don’t know. It was surreal for me. It was my first time, and I just can’t believe I was here. You dream about this stuff when you were a little kid and I to live it is a dream.
On what she is going to do with her gold medal:
I’m going to sleep in it. I’m going to take it off to shower … probably. But I am going to live in it.
On the hard work it took to reach this goal:
I think you have to look at our overall schedule in order to appreciate this month of what we just put together. We go from … overseas for us, European League or Asia and you plat for six to eight months, and then you hop right in to the WNBA season and you play for five straight months in the most intense basketball in the world, and in between that you’ve got some USA Basketball training camps when you are supposed to be vacationing. So we choose to come in and train and work hard and compete against each other and then squeeze in some Olympic games in between our WNBA games when we could have been relaxing for a little while. But we came together and put it on the line for our country because we re are so blessed to have the opportunity to play in the United States of America and around such great talent and such great coaches a place that actually develops us as people and as basketball players. I think of all that and to have this moment to kind of put the icing on the cake, it’s very sweet.
On how important it is to put individual goals aside:
It’s hard. That’s why team sports are so much fun to watch because it’s really an artwork of and a game of how can you fit these pieces together knowing that anyone of us could score 30 if we had to, but we don’t have to. So it’s kind of hard to do what you are usually not called on to do. But we made it work and it was beautiful.
On Candace Parker’s performance:
When she’s aggressive she is going to get anything she wants. I think one of her best abilities is to start the break. She’ll get a rebound, start it in transition, give it up and get it right back. Or come off of a screen-and-roll, Diana or someone will draw someone’s attention and find her and she’ll finish inside. She really has so many ways to score in her game. When she brings it like that it is almost impossible to beat our team.
On the impact of Candace Parker tonight:
She had a really good game. I know she was really disappointed after her game the other night. I think today she came out with a little bit more energy and a lot more force, and it showed throughout the game.
On the versatility of Candace Parker:
She’s one of those players that can really do anything on the court, and that’s what separates her from a lot of players. I think that’s just another example of how great this team is that any given night, someone can step up and kind of take charge of it. You can probably go back to the game logs and (look at) the leading scorer in each game … I think that’s what coach has preached and, the team, that’s the way we wanted to play. Tonight, looking up and down, we had a lot of people contributed and that feels good at the end of the day.
On winning an Olympic gold for the third time with Tamika Catchings and Sue Bird and on if Tamika will play in Rio in 2016:
I mean, we shook on it, so she’s in. You know, I usually don’t get very emotional when you win something, but for some reason when we walked into the arena afterwards, it kind of hit me that this might be my last, it might not be, but after three golds, they’re really hard. Even if you win a game by 30, if you win by 10, the whole process is really difficult to try to get 12 really good players to kind of just buy into one thing. It takes awhile; it takes a lot of effort. By the end of it, I think we succeeded in what we wanted to do, we were lucky enough to win a gold medal doing it.
On if it ever gets old winning championships:
No, I mean this tournament was a lot different than the other ones. I think mainly just the way we set up, because we did play Australia in the semis and I think coming in, probably against France, I don’t think they were playing the best basketball in the tournament. So, I think coming into this game we were, not scared, but we knew that this team was going to be playing really well. I think for those first 20 minutes, they probably matched our intensity, and, you know, over the course of the game, we kind of wore them down. I don’t think it gets old. To see how happy Maya was, to do it with Coach (Auriemma) this time, you know, everyone has had a different element to it. To see Sue (Bird) and (Tamika) Catchings – this is our third one. It’s different and it feels really good.
On winning again with Coach Auriemma and their special bond:
I mean, there’s really no better feeling. I wouldn’t want to be up here with anyone else. Coach (Auriemma) knows me more than any person on this earth, including my family, so it means a lot.
On the dynamic of her and Sue Bird:
You know, we just work really well on the court. We just find a way to really control the game in a lot of ways. When you get on these teams, you have so many great players and so many great scorers, we’ve really taken the role of more facilitators, getting people in the right spots. We’ve been lucky enough to play for Coach (Auriemma), and he’s really taught us how to manage a game in more ways than just scoring. I think we just understand each other really well on the court. We’re best friends and that all has helped us in our careers, here with USA Basketball, in Connecticut, overseas, just having a great feeling of synergy on the court.
On the flow of the game with so many contributors:
Well, we knew it was going to be a difficult game. We all knew the French team really well. We know how hard they play on every possession, how physical they are, how they pride themselves on defense, starting with Celine (Dumerc) over here. We know how difficult it is, and they don’t let you get anything easy. I think we just try to really share the ball and make that our strength and I think that throughout the 40 minutes we did that.
On whether Diana will play in Rio in 2016:
Oh yeah. If it was up to me, I would be on the team, but four years is a long time. It’s a long time and you don’t know what can happen in four years, but would I love to be on the team again? Sure. There’s no better feeling to putting on the jersey and representing your country. It’s one thing I always look forward to.