Basketball Five-Peat: Breaking Records on the Court
Standing next to Candace Parker, her daughter was pulling her mom’s right hand away from reporters.
The 3-year-old was ready to go.
One more second, Parker told Lailaa as the two-time Olympian answered questions.
In a blue dress with white American stars and red and white striped leggings, Lailaa wasn’t impressed with her mom’s newest piece of hardware. Parker kissed Lailaa’s cheek on the court after Team USA dominated France in the women’s basketball gold-medal final, 86-50. The victory cemented the U.S.’s fifth straight gold medal, an Olympic record for consecutive championships in a women’s team sport.
“She saw the gold medal, and she was happy for a second and then she told me she wanted a smaller one,” Parker said. “So, we’ll have to work on getting that.”
The 36-point U.S. advantage proved to be the largest margin of victory in a women’s Olympic gold-medal game with the previous high being Soviet Union’s 31-point win over Bulgaria in 1980.
Parker’s magic number on Saturday night at North Greenwich Arena was 21 as she scored a game-high 21 points in 21:21 minutes. The Los Angeles Sparks player completed a double-double, also registering 11 rebounds.
France’s only lead was short-lived, coming off Edwige Lawson-Wade’s three-pointer with 3:51 to go in the first quarter and lasting just 1:02. Team USA led by five points after the first.
With 3:15 to go in the second, Parker drove to the basket on the right, giving a quick glance to first-time Olympian Lindsay Whalen on the opposite side of the key. Holding the ball with just her right hand, Parker erased France’s lead by a finger-roll layup, putting Team USA up 32-23. In a span of just 1:05, Parker tallied six points, giving the U.S. an 11-point advantage.
“Candace has a lot of skills, and some nights she really tries to use them,” said Head Coach Geno Auriemma. “And other nights, she forgets the skills she has. Tonight, luckily for us, she remembered them.”
At the half, Team USA was in control with a 12-point lead. The U.S. continued the offensive power surge in the second half with three-time Olympian Sue Bird and Parker leading the way. Dribbling with her right hand, Bird, who finished with 11 points, spotted up for a three on the left wing with 5:50 to go in the third to extend the American’s lead to 50-32.
Bird said she felt Team USA was “a little too excited” at the start of the game, but Parker was the reason for setting a calmer tone.
“She was the one player who was getting offensive rebounds, putting it back, getting layups,” Bird said. “And whenever you see another teammate kind of playing that way, it tends to calm you and allow you to kind of settle into your own game. She was huge for us in the first half.”
France’s free throw basket with 1:13 left in the third was its first point in 15 possessions and a little over six minutes of action. Team USA made sure to capitalize on France’s 11 turnovers, scoring 27 points from the takeaways.
With the victory, Bird, Diana Taurasi and Tamika Catchings join an exclusive club of three-time Olympic basketball medalists.
“The depth has won us gold medals in the past,” Bird said. “It’s what makes our team so special. It’s what makes us so difficult to play against. When we sub there is always someone coming in.”
Since women’s basketball became a medal sport at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, the U.S. has collected a record seven gold medals, one silver and one bronze. The unbeatable streak at the Games also continues as Team USA hasn’t lost since 1996 in Atlanta.
Taurasi, a former University of Connecticut player under Auriemma, said this third gold medal feels different than the others. The Phoenix Mercury guard started tearing up when asked about winning the gold medal with Auriemma as head coach.
“I wouldn’t want to be up here with anyone else,” Taurasi said. “Coach knows me better than any person on earth, including my family.”
Team USA acted as a family in its record-breaking victory – Auriemma, Taurasi, Parker, Lailaa and all.