NANJING, China -- “We worked so hard to get here, and we weren’t going to let another team take this opportunity from us.”
Napheesa Collier’s words rang true throughout Wutaishan Stadium as Team USA captured the only hardware the four women planned on taking home: gold.
The standout team comprised of Collier, De’Janae Boykin, Arike Ogunbowale and Katie Lou Samuelson accomplished this feat with flair: dominating the women’s 3-on-3 basketball field and finishing the tournament with a perfect 13-0 record.
With International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach and NBA star Yao Ming on hand to watch, the team capped its gold-medal run with a convincing 19-10 victory over the Netherlands.
Facing a bigger team than previous lineups, Team USA’s game plan was to focus on spreading the floor and fighting for every rebound rather than their typical heavy post-play, and it paid off.
Beyond the X’s and O’s on the court, however, the mindset was simple: “Be aggressive. Don’t ever give up,” said Boykin. “The Netherlands were going to come out gunning for us, so we had to come out even stronger.”
This resilient attitude would be critical throughout the game, in which physical play and sharpshooting from the Netherlands proved a tough challenge for Team USA in the first half of the 10-minute final.
Facing adversity, the team “kept each other up the whole time, instead of putting each other down. We’re always encouraging each other,” said Ogunbowale.
After a slow start, the leadership of guard Ogunbowale steadied the team, and the momentum quickly shifted toward Team USA’s favor.
From there, the team went on a 9-0 run and played stifling defense, holding the Netherlands to 10 points. Samuelson – the No.1 recruit in the class of 2015 by ESPN and Youth Olympic Games shoot-out contest bronze medalist – let her talent do the talking with eight points, while Ogunbowale poured in seven points and Collier added four.
The debut of the women’s 3-on-3 format didn’t hurt, either. The fast-paced play features 10-minute games on a half court, where one point is awarded for shots made inside the arc and shots beyond the arc are awarded two points. The first team to score 21 points or the team leading after regulation is declared the winner. The exciting format played to Team USA’s high basketball IQ and athleticism – forcing players to making sound decisions on the run.
The ultimate key to their success? Team chemistry.
“I think we get along really well together,” said Samuelson of the bond that sets the U.S. team apart from others. “The chemistry we have as a team is one of the main reasons we won.”
Head coach Dori Oldaker has seen this chemistry take shape in a matter of weeks, and echoed Samuelson’s sentiment, adding that the group’s team-first mentality and work ethic elevates their level of play.
To see all of the time spent in the gym culminate in a gold medal was a moment of pure happiness for Oldaker.
“I’m elated and overjoyed for them because they’ve worked so hard,” said Oldaker. “I can’t describe to you how wonderful they are to work with. They put a lot of time into their game. I’m a very lucky person.”
Understanding the gravity of the moment, the team took time to reflect on the significance of their achievement, etching themselves into USA Basketball’s history of dominance.
“I think it motivates us to keep winning,” said Ogunbowale. “We always want to keep going and keep following in these great players’ footsteps.”
The journey does not end here for Collier, Boykin and Samuelson, who plan to attend University of Connecticut, while Ogunbowale is undecided.
With buzzer sounding the end of the final, the four ecstatically hugged each other, sharing a moment that will not soon be forgotten.
Collier explained their emotions, “This was the last 10 minutes we would spend on this court, so we tried to make every minute count.”