Thursday, May 24, 2018
Sports

Gary Shelton at the Games: U.S. women's basketball team an underappreciated dynasty

LONDON

They did not play very well. They missed too many shots, and they made too many turnovers. There were moments along the way when they seemed to lose focus, like schoolchildren staring out the window.

Yeah, it sure was a disappointing night for the U.S. women's basketball team.

After all, it won by only 36.

They are the most underappreciated dynasty in the history of the Olympics, these women. They crush opponents — absolutely destroy them. They pick up gold medals as if they were plucking apples from low-lying branches. They steamroll the world, and still they do not seem to be appreciated nearly enough.

The American women won their fifth consecutive gold medal Saturday, frying France in an 86-50 stroll through the park. It was the 41st straight victory in the Olympics for the United States, and despite how much the Americans insist the world has improved, it figures to be some time before they lose another.

What women's team is going to run with this one? It is so deep, and it is so talented. During the eight games of this Olympics, it won by an average of 34 points.

Every time out, it is like watching Attila vs. the villagers. And afterward, Attila tries to convince the media of how much better the villagers are performing. No, really. This time one of the villagers kept it close for a good 10 minutes.

"You can't apologize for being really good," coach Geno Auriemma said. "The reason some people don't think there's any competition is because they don't have to be the ones here playing. We know how good the competition is. We know how hard we have to play to make it look easy, but it's not easy."

Well, yeah, it kinda is. Consider the words of French point guard Celine Dumerc.

"We knew there was no way we were going to win," she said.

Frankly, everyone knew that. France heaved up 64 shots against the United States, and it hit only 18 of them. Once the United States ran off 19 straight points in the third quarter, it was all over but the anthem.

"Maybe in other sports there isn't the same level of expectations that they have to win all the time," Auriemma said. "But we're not going to start losing to make them feel better."

Let's face it: After a rather ragged first 10 minutes or so, the Americans were no longer playing against France. They were playing against legacies. For one thing, there is that 41-game winning streak staring at them.

"For us, that's just building off a legacy," said Tamika Catchings, who won her third straight gold medal. "It's not pressure, but it is 'Oh, my God. What's going to happen to that team that loses a game?' Hopefully, I'm not a part of that. It's just women's basketball and how dominant we've been over the years. We go out with that target on our back."

For all its winning, women's basketball still struggles to gain traction with some observers. There was a headline in Britain's Guardian that summed it up fairly well the other day: "So Amazing, So Ignored." Even Auriemma, the UConn coach, pointed out that fans can watch women play tennis without comparing them to the men, or women play soccer. But in basketball, how women play compared with men always seems the subject.

Still, aren't we supposed to admire excellence. Think about it. The U.S. women's team hasn't lost in the Olympics for 20 years. Maybe that's why winning lopsided games for high stakes has come to be the expectation.

"In a way, it's a compliment that people expect this from us," said guard Sue Bird. "What I think people don't realize is just how difficult it is to be this consistent. That part they take for granted."

And why not? Coming into the tournament, the Americans had averaged a 29-point winning margin since '96. This time that went up. Not even the U.S. men win that big or that often.

Not that Auriemma is griping. Before the tournament began, he joked about the folly of those coaches who spin it around to make the opponent the favorite.

"A lot of people want to coach the underdog," Auriemma said. "Me, I don't like being the underdog. I like to coach the best team, the best players, and if we lose, then it's my fault. It's like poker. I don't want to win with 7s because I got lucky. I want to have four aces right off the bat and beat everyone's (rear end)."

This time Auriemma had a fistful of aces. Diana Taurasi. Catchings. Bird. Maya Moore. Candace Parker. Tina Charles. And on and on.

"The world is getting better," Parker said.

Thirty-six points? A fifth straight gold? Forty-one straight games?

Sure it is.

Track

• Usain Bolt gets his triple for a second straight Games, winning a third gold anchoring Jamaica to a world record in the 400-meter relay. Also, Allyson Felix gets her third gold as the American women win the 1,600 relay. 10C

Around the games

• The United States gets its first diving gold in 12 years when David Boudia wins the men's platform. … The favored U.S. women's volleyball team is stunned by Brazil in the final. 11C

Today

• NBC will stream the closing ceremony live on NBCOlympics.com at 4 p.m. EDT. It still will be on TV on tape delay tonight on Ch. 8.

•The U.S. men take on Spain for basketball gold at 10 a.m. live on Ch. 8.

More TV, 6C

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