Column: The best women’s game would be US vs. US
When it was over – finally, mercifully, exhaustively – they
laughed, shrugged, danced, hugged and celebrated for a solid hour,
as if they had won.
Which in a sense, the French did.
They only lost by 36 points.
The same U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team that beat France
86-50 for the gold medal Saturday night beat Canada earlier in the
tournament by 43, China by 48 and Angola by 52.
”I think it speaks directly to what we’ve got going on in our
country in women’s basketball and in women’s sports in general,”
U.S. point guard Sue Bird said. ”We wear teams down, bottom line.
We come at them in waves and when they sub and we sub, it’s a huge
If U.S.-France was the only game of the tournament you watched,
congratulations. The only better use of your time would have been
tuning into the United States’ 86-73 semifinal win over Australia –
the toughest anyone has played the Americans in the last two
Olympics and the only time they trailed at halftime during the last
U.S.-Australia is the closest thing to a rivalry in the women’s
game, and even so, the Americans have won all seven meetings at the
Olympics. That means the only real rivalry is when the U.S. team
plays an intrasquad game. Seimone Augustus wasn’t afraid to
acknowledge as much even before she and her teammates hit the road
to the Summer Games.
”The practices are definitely harder. Just look at the
competition that we face,” she said. ”The best players in the
WNBA going at each other every day. You can’t get better than
”I’m not saying the game is easy. But if I’ve got to face Diana
Taurasi,” she said. ”I’m not going to see another Diana Taurasi
in Europe or France or Spain. It’s pretty tough.”
A similar situation exists in women’s hockey, except that it’s
dominated by two teams, Canada and the United States, instead of
one. Even so, near the end of the 2010 Vancouver Games,
International Olympic Committee head Jacques Rogge gave the rest of
the world eight years to close the gap or face losing their place
in the Olympic program. Basketball hasn’t been similarly threatened
But the U.S. women got a headstart on their counterparts with
the passage of Title IX in 1972, which mandated funding for women’s
sports programs across the board. As a result, the hoopsters today
enjoy a big advantage in just about every important category –
participation numbers, coaching, facilities, training, sponsors –
and thanks to the stewardship of USA Basketball, it’s being passed
on from each crop of players to the next.
”We start at a young age. The players give back,” said Candace
Parker, who scored a game-high 21 points, including eight straight
during a second-quarter run that proved the decisive stretch in the
game. ”You have players coming back for a third Olympics to show
the younger players what it takes to win a gold medal.
”I learned a lot from Tina Thompson, Lisa Leslie, Katie Smith
and now Dee (Diana Taurasi), Tamika (Catchings), Sue (Bird). It’s
just the passing down of what it takes to win.”
It’s all those things, and at least one more – the tough
practices that U.S. coach Geno Auriemma runs at Connecticut, where
he’s built a women’s college basketball dynasty, plus the ones that
his rival, just-retired coach Pat Summit, used to run at Tennessee.
That’s one reason the pipeline of poised, disciplined talent
stocking the U.S. program never seems to run dry.
”When you talk about the score, or the level of competition,
it’s really more that we just want to play well, whether there’s
five people out there (watching) or no one. We want it to look
sharp. We want it to look crisp and that’s a challenge,” said
guard Maya Moore, who played for Auriemma at UConn.
”You never want to walk off the court feeling like, ‘I could
have tried harder,’ whether it’s practice or a game. You always
want to try hard, so coach is going to do whatever he has to make
practice the level of,” Moore paused, searching for the right
word, ”’Whew.’ That’s why he’s the greatest.”
You won’t hear Auriemma say as much, let alone that the rest of
world will be even further behind by the time the Olympic
tournament tips off four years from now. Instead, he was already
trying to sell tickets for the 2016 Rio Games.
”If you took out our team and Angola, you’d have a hard time
separating the other 10. That’s a heck of a tournament,” he said.
”I’ve been impressed by the level of play.”
If so, he might be the only one. The French had only one player,
Sandrine Gruda, who played in the WNBA; every one of the Americans
still do. That’s why losing by 36 points felt like a victory, if
only a moral one.
”We’re so proud to be here. I’m so happy. It’s amazing. It’s
heavy. It’s wonderful. It’s huge. It’s a dream,” said scrappy
point guard Celine Dumerc, probably the only French player good
enough to even ride the U.S. bench.
”We’re here,” she added, ”and that’s the best.”
Make that second-best – and by a mile.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated
Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at