Opening game shows path to Olympic gold will not be a breeze for U.S. women's basketball team

She doesn’t lose when it matters and she rarely loses when it DOESN’T matter. 

The U.S. women’s basketball team has gone undefeated ever since Sue Bird’s first Olympics, which were in Athens in 2004.

In competitive games for the U.S. team, whether its on the Olympic or FIBA stage, Bird is 142-6. In exhibition games, she’s 54-2.

Tokyo 2020 will be Bird’s fifth Olympics, probably her last one too. She’s the all-time U.S. Olympic assist leader (89, through four Games, all golds).

For U.S. women in World Cup career statistics, she ranks first in assists (107), fifth in steals (38) and 10th in points (188). 

She’s also at the risk of being one of the most decorated basketball players ever (sorry Michael Jordan). Bird is one of 11 players to have collected a rare amount of silverware: four Olympic gold medals known as ‘the Four Queens’, FIBA World Cup gold, WNBA title and NCAA championship. 

At the age of 40, there’s little left for Bird to achieve other than carrying this young USA women’s basketball team to the golden prize. For the first time in three decades, the team looks shaky as it relies heavily on a 40-year-old Bird and a 39-year-old Diana Taurasi in its starting lineup, which will remind a few about the last time the U.S. women’s basketball team lost at the Olympics.  

In 1992, the Unified Team upsets US women’s basketball team at the Barcelona Olympics in the semifinals. 

The Unified Team was the name used for the sports team of the former Soviet Union (except the Baltic states) at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville and the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. The IOC country code was EUN, after the French name, Équipe unifiée.

Almost from the start the USA team found the game’s pace slowed as the former Soviet squad ran its deliberate offense while sitting back defensively in a zone.

The USA opened a 22-15 ad­vantage with 11:37 remaining in the first half, but with 4:06 to go in the first half, the contest was even 33-33. 

The Unified women finished the first half in top form, outscoring the U.S. 14-8 to take a 47-41 lead into the locker room at halftime.

The Unified team continued to roll and opened a 54-43 lead with over 16 minutes remaining.

The USA squad came to life as its defense pressured the Unified team into some costly turnovers, Getting a needed spark from C.J. Jones who made her first appearance of the Olympics, the U.S. went on a 16-3 scoring spurt with Jones accounting for five points in the run as the U.S. took a narrow 57-55 lead.

The game see-sawed back and forth and was tied 67-67 with 5:25 remaining. But a 6-0 scoring spurt by the Unified Team earned them a 73-67 advantage with 3:14 to play. 

A Suzie McConnell 3-pointer and three points from Clarissa Davis closed the gap to 76-73 with 1:09 to go. The U.S. defense made three steals in the next 30 seconds but was unable to score and the Unified Team made just enough of its free throws to claim the 79-73 victory.

Cold shooting doomed the U.S. as the Americans shot just 35.8% (29-81 FGs) from the field, 20% (5-20) from 3-point, and just 52.6% (10-19 FTs) from the foul stripe.

Medina Dixon again led the U.S. offense with 12 points, while Teressa Edwards and Davis each tallied 11 points, and Katrina McClain accounted for 10 points and 16 rebounds. 

‘We played as hard as we could,’ said Edwards after the loss. ‘Any time you step out on the floor, you can lose. We knew the Russians were good. But it (the loss) is very hard to swal­low. We chipped it back in the second half, but we couldn’t get our lead to four points. We just couldn’t get over the hump.’ 


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