RIO DE JANEIRO – The U.S. Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team reclaimed its position on top of the podium for its third gold medal in the last four Paralympic Games by defeating Germany, 62-45, the London 2012 Paralympic Games gold medalists. The United States won is fourth overall gold medal in women’s wheelchair basketball, and leads the overall medal count with eight medals, next to Germany’s seven.
In a very strategic game for both teams, the United States and Germany played almost even, with Team USA edging ahead, 14-12. The second half witnessed another strong defensive output from Team USA pushing the German shooters outside and swarming their key players. Each team took a timeout after the first several minutes to regroup.
Three-time U.S. Paralympian Becca Murray of Germantown, Wisconsin, propelled the United States on a 15-5 run, and scoring 13 points in the first half. Two-time Paralympian Rose Hollermann of Elysian, Minnesota, is having a strong complete game snagging scoring six points, snagging nine rebounds and dishing out five assists in the first half.
“This is an amazing feeling. All of the hard work that we’ve put in for the last three or four years to get to this point, makes it just amazing to be here and to celebrate with such a great group of women,” said Murray. “I was part of the team in 2008 that took gold, and part of the team in 2012 that fell short, so I know how each side of it feels, and I wanted to be back on top of the podium so bad. We have a lot more experience working together as a team, and our chemistry has brought us close both on and off the court. We’ve spent so much time training together and I think that was the factor that brought us together.
After two quarters, Team USA built a 29-17 lead. Mareike Miller was the leading scorer at half for Germany with six points.
The U.S. fortress continued its domination to open the second half by coming out with a 13-0 run in the first four minutes, building a 42-17 lead. Germany returned with a small 8-2 run, before a vital U.S. timeout was called for the U.S. to finish the quarter up 49-31. The U.S. defense held Mareike Miller to only four points in the third. She finished the night with 10 points.
“Their defense was incredible. Germany is a great team and they have some great scorers. Our goal was to keep their scorers from getting in the paint and keep them from carrying their team to victory,” said U.S. Women’s Head Coach Stephanie Wheeler of Champaign, Illinois. “My heart is with our defense. I’m just so proud of the way they came out and they took the challenge to go out and stop some really great scorers. I’d say that my second proudest moment is that they played with so much composure on offense.”
Murray scored 11 more points in the quarter, with Hollerman having a double-double with 10 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists. Co-captain Gail Gaeng of Frederick, Maryland, has tallied nine of her 11 points after three quarters, her most of the Paralympics.
In the fourth, Germany led the attack and narrowly outscored Team USA, 16-13, not enough to defend its 2012 gold medal. Germany jumped out quick in the fourth by going on a 11-2 run over the course of the first seven minutes. This run was stymied when Murray hit a three-pointer at the top of key, giving Team USA a 54-40 lead, but Germany’s Marina Mohnen returned with a three-pointer, 54-43. But this did not disturb Murray, who was hit in stride from three-time Paralympian Natalie Schneider of Crete, Nebraska, for another basket, essentially extinguishing Germany’s threat, 56-43.
Team USA closed out the quarter with Gaeng and Murray adding four more points from the charity stripe. Two-time Paralympian Desiree Miller of Monroe, Washington, closed the game with mid-range jumper and the Rio Paralympics, 62-45.
Murray paced the United States and led the squad with 33 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Hollermann closed out her first golden moment with 10 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists. As a team, they shot 25 for of 55, while Germany finished 19 of 59. The United States narrowly won the rebound category, 36-35, and forced 12 turnovers in the 40 minutes.
“I think it is hard for this to sink in, because it is such a big moment, it’s going to take a bit to really hit me,” said Hollermann. “I think offensively we did a great job of moving the ball. Becca Murray was the hot hand today obviously, so we just kept finding her and she kept hitting shots, so that was huge for us. And defensively we did a great job of hitting chairs and keeping them out wide and we’re able to get the rebounds. All of the hard work has paid off, all of the sacrifice paid off, and it is just awesome to be there at the top of the podium."
The two countries have seen each other a total of 11 times in the Paralympics, and The United States now holds a 6-5 record against Germany. The United States is now 43-22 overall in the Paralympic Games.
Team USA six categories over the seven-game stretch. It is the third time that the United States has gone undefeated at the Paralympics, en route to the gold medal. Team USA led shooting percentage at 53.8 percent; points for at 505 points (72.1/game); assists with 178 (25.4/game); fouls with 55; and the least turnovers at 61 (8.7/game). The United States was second in points against with 42.3 per game, with Germany leading with 41.6 points per game against.
“I hope that this helps us recruit more athletes. I hope that they see that they have the opportunity to do something special in sport,” said Wheeler. “I hope that it helps the Paralympic sport movement in general. I know that there are people with disabilities who are out there who don’t know about sport. I didn’t know about it until six years after my accident. I hope that it spreads the word that you can be a part of this.”
The last time that both the U.S. Women’s and Men’s Teams won medals was at the Atlanta 1996 Paralympic Games. Each team earned bronze medals.
The U.S. Women’s Head Coach is Stephanie Wheeler of Champaign, Illinois, who won two Paralympic gold medals at the 2004 and 2008 Games, and will be assisted by NWBA Hall of Famer Trooper Johnson of San Lorenzo, California, and Amy Spangler of Madison, Wisconsin, with Kearstin Gehlhausen of Whitewater, Wisconsin, serving as the team leader, and Karla Wessels of Lexington, Kentucky, is the athletic trainer. Dr. Roberta Kraus of Colorado Springs, Colorado, serves as both the men’s and women’s Team Psychologist.