A world championship three-peat has landed the U.S. women’s basketball team a spot at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
Team USA defeated Australia 73-56 on Sunday in the championship game of the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in Tenerife, Spain. In doing so, the six-time defending Olympic champ Americans also became the first women’s basketball team to qualify for the Tokyo Games.
Brittney Griner, a 2016 Olympic gold medalist, scored a game-high 15 points for the U.S. Four-time Olympic gold medalist Diana Taurasi added 13 points and 2016 Olympic gold medalist Breanna Stewart had 10 points and a team-high 8 rebounds.
Should the U.S. win Olympic gold in Tokyo it would tie the U.S. men’s record of seven straight from 1936-1968.
The win over Australia finished a six-game unbeaten run through the tournament for Team USA, which now has 10 World Cup titles and three in a row. Since 1996, Team USA has won 100 of 101 games and is now 18-0 against Australia in World Cup and Olympic matchu’ps. This was the first time these two teams had met since the 2014 World Cup semifinals where the U.S. 82-70.
The U.S. has also won six of the last seven World Cup tournaments (the event was previously called the FIBA World Championship for Women).
Team USA featured a balanced squad, led by veterans and four-time Olympic gold medalists Sue Bird and Taurasi. Bird is the first U.S. player to appear in five World Cups and is now the only person in history with five FIBA World Cup medals.
Bird, who had a game-high five assists, celebrated with her teammates on the bench in the closing minutes of Sunday’s game. The team huddled on the court after the game and applauded in the direction of the U.S. fans who were in Santiago Martin Arena.
In addition to Bird and Taurasi, members of the World Cup-winning squad included 2016 Olympic teammates Tina Charles, Elena Delle Donne and Griner and Stewart. Jewell Lloyd was also on this year’s roster. She was part of the U.S. team that won gold at the 2014 FIBA 3x3 World Cup and is the first person ever to earn a gold medal at both events.
The U.S. cruised through three games in the preliminary round, winning by an average of almost 20 points. The Americans then topped Nigeria in the quarterfinals by a score of 71-40 and Belgium in the semifinals, 93-77.
Stewart scored 49 points over the final three wins.
Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1996, when he was an assistant bureau chief in Atlanta. He is sports editor of the Cape Cod Times and a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.