UConn. quintet win Olympic gold
Bird and Taurasi, who first played together during the 2000-01 college season followed up their on-court partnership at UConn by playing together in Russia and of course a remarkable run with the U.S. national team.
Taurasi finished as the leading scorer for the U.S. team and Bird set an Olympic record for assist/turnover ratio as the U.S. won their sixth straight Olympic gold medal with a 101-72 win over Spain.
Taurasi had 17 points as she averaged 15.6 points in the eight games aided by her 58 percent shooting from 3-point range as she joined Bird and Tamika Catchings as four-time Olympic gold medalists.
"It’s huge," Taurasi said. "It says a lot about the people the run USA Basketball. It says a lot about the youth in our country that when you put this jersey on, there’s a level and it’s not necessarily just basketball, it’s a way to be a great teammate. We showed that in this tournament "
Former Connecticut Sun guard Lindsay Whalen had 13 points and five rebounds. Former UConn star Maya Moore had 12 of her 14 points in the first half and also had five rebounds and six assists.
Bird, who missed the semifinal win over France with a knee injury, had one assist and one turnover giving her 31 assists versus four turnovers in the tournament which is easily the best mark in Olympic women's basketball history. Bahar Caglar of Turkey had 11 assists and 2 turnovers in the 2012 Olympics while in 1996 Hyun Sun Han of Korea had 16 assists and 3 turnovers.
"I’m just really happy," Bird said. "We just did something that’s pretty incredible. When you get together as a team and you know you only have a month to do something, it’s remarkable in so many ways that we were able to put this together and do it in a fashion that leaves no question marks. This put us on the map as arguable one of the best teams, and we had fun doing it.
"I don’t think I’ve ever been around a group that’s this talented and also played this hard. Again, I’m just super happy. I’m proud of my teammates. I’m proud I’m part of this group. I’m happy for Coach Auriemma and the rest of the staff, and it’s just a really fun day today."
In the second quarter alone, UConn grads Taurasi, Bird, Moore, Tina Charles and Breanna Stewart combined for 26 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, two steals and a blocked shot as the U.S. outscored Spain 28-15 to take a commanding 49-32 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Charles finished with eight points, seven rebounds and five assists while Stewart finished with 11 points.
Charles and Moore join Bird and Taurasi as the only players to win multiple NCAA, World Championship and Olympic titles while Stewart becomes the ninth former Husky to win a gold medal in women's basketball.
"This is in a league of its own," said Stewart, who averaged 8.1 points per game while shooting 73.3 percent from the field. "This is a different kind of toughness to be able to win gold medal just because you come together with 11 other great players, best players in the world, and we had two weeks to prepare really. Then we got here and played well and acted like we been playing with each together for the entire year."
Moore joined Taurasi as the only double-digit scorer for the U.S. averaging 12 points per game, she also had a team-high 16 steals and was tied for the team lead with 45 rebounds. It should be noted that six U.S. players had at least 20 assists and four of them graduated from UConn as Moore had a team high 34 assists, Taurasi had 26 and Charles finished with 25.
It had to be extra special for Auriemma. He made it clear after returning home from the 2012 Olympics that he was done with being in the pressure cooker of coaching the U.S. national team. USA Basketball Women's National Team Director Carol Callan wouldn't take no for an answer and Auriemma decided that being able to coach his former players and especially Bird and Taurasi was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
It wasn't an easy ride. He had to answer questions daily about whether the dominance of the U.S. team was good for the game (like he never heard that question before). When two-time Olympian Candace Parker was left off the team, he faced accusations of picking players because they went to UConn. Those petty claims were on social media even today. None of that seemed to matter after the gold medal game as Auriemma became the first coach to win multiple Olympic gold medals in women's basketball even if he doesn't get a medal.
"Obviously, it was an incredible tournament for us," Auriemma said after the game. "From the very first game that we played to today, with very few exceptions I thought we played basketball at a really high level. I can’t say enough about our players. How quickly they’ve come together, how much they’ve been able to accomplish in less than a month that we’ve been together. It wasn’t as easy as sometimes it looked. These last two games especially with France and today against Spain. These are very good teams that we’re playing, and you could see that it wasn’t just a cake walk, that it was a struggle. Then finally, because of our depth and because of the experience on our team, we were able to separate ourselves. But the way we played, we respected our opponents and we respected the game itself, we earned a lot of respect from a lot of people around the world, and I’m really proud of that."
Catchings has announced that this was her Olympic swan song and we'll have to see if Bird and Taurasi opt to try to become the first five-time Olympic gold medalists in women's basketball in four years time. Also, will UConn coach Geno Auriemma be the head coach for the U.S. in 2020. If I had to guess I would say no on all accounts.
Former Connecticut Sun draft pick Alba Torrens led Spain with 18 points.
Serbia won the bronze medal with a 70-63 win over France. Former Connecticut Sun forward Danielle Page had 10 points as she was one of five players from Serbia in double figures.