RIO DE JANEIRO —
Make it six Olympic gold medals in a row for the United States' women's basketball team.
Team USA finished off a dominating performance at the Rio Summer Games Saturday, beating Spain in the championship match, 101-72.
Heading into the final, the U.S. women had been overpowering in Rio, winning their previous seven games by an average margin of about 40 points. The high-scoring game against Spain was the sixth time in their eight Olympic contests in Rio that they had scored more than 100 points.
“Obviously, it was an incredible tournament for us,” said U.S. coach Geno Auriemma. “It wasn't as easy as sometimes it looked. Because of our depth and because of the experience that we have on our team, we were able to separate ourselves.
"But the way we played, we respected the opponents and we respected the game itself, and we earned a lot of respect from, I think, a lot of people around the world and I'm really proud of that," Auriemma said.
“You can talk about the 100-point games and the margin of victory, but we played out butts off. I mean we really did,” added U.S. team captain and guard Sue Bird. “I don't think I've ever been around a group that's this talented and also played this hard.”
That's quite a compliment because Bird has been playing for the U.S. National Team since 2002 and this is her fourth Olympic gold medal.
In the first quarter, Spain stuck with the Americans and the two teams traded the lead several times before the U.S. managed a 21-17 advantage at the end of the period.
Bird hit a 3-pointer to start the second quarter and the U.S. slowly pulled away, taking a 49-32 lead at the half. The margin grew to 35 points early in the fourth quarter at 84-49, and from there the Americans coasted to victory.
“Basketball is really important to a lot of people in the U.S., and no one takes it more seriously than women,” said Diana Taurasi, who with 17 points shared top scoring honors against Spain with Lindsey Whalen. “We play year round. We sacrifice a lot of things to make sure than we bring this (gold medal) home.”
Taurasi explained that the American women not only play professionally in the WNBA, but many also play in pro leagues outside the U.S. in the WNBA's off-season. Taurasi has played in both Turkey and Russia. The 34-year-old now owns four Olympic basketball gold medals.
“I can remember growing up and idolizing Diana,” said Taurasi's teammate and first-time Olympian Elena Delle Donne, who scored 10 points. “She is a big reason why I fell in love with the game.
"There were moments in this game where I had to just shake my head and smile at the things she was doing. I was like, 'Oh, my goodness. This is what I watched way back when, and now I'm suited up next to her,' " she said.
Delle Donne is the reigning WNBA Most Valuable Player with the Chicago Sky.
Despite the loss, the Spanish players said they will hold their heads high because the silver is their nation's first-ever Olympic medal in women's basketball.
“This was the most important day in my sporting life,” said Anna Cruz, who scored nine points, "because I've been on the national team for 15 years and this is my third Olympic Games. And to be on the podium and have this silver medal, for me it's everything.”
“We had a great tournament and it was important for us to win a silver medal. We made history,” said Spanish coach Lucas Mondelo. “They are one step above us, but very few teams can say they have played a final against the United States. I hope one day we can win, but our team still has a long way to go.”
In the bronze medal game played earlier Saturday, Serbia defeated France, 70-63.