US women hoops already looking ahead to Rio

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by Doug Feinberg

LONDON (AP)—Diana Taurasi already has her bags packed for Rio.

“I’ll be 34, in my prime. I’ll be there,” she said with a smile. “Why not? We got all the pieces to keep this going.”

That’s not reassuring news for the rest of the women’s basketball world. The U.S. beat France 86-50 Saturday night to win its fifth straight Olympic gold medal and 41st game in a row, including the last eight in the tournament by an average of 34 points.

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MISSION ACCOMPLISHED—United States’ poses with their gold medals at center court after beating France during the women’s gold medal basketball game at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Aug. 11, in London. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

It’s not just the superstar veterans like Taurasi, Sue Bird and Tamika Catchings that make the U.S. the odds-on favorite four years from now. They have a wealth of young stars like Candace Parker, Maya Moore and Tina Charles, who were a big part of the success in London.

U.S. coach Geno Auriemma credits the veterans for keeping this unbelievable run rolling.

“They keep coming back until they are sure the next guys have it all together,” he said. “They don’t leave the cupboard bare. I’m anxious to see what transpires in the next couple years. We’ve put a lot of distance between us and the rest of the world right now. I’d hate to see us stop working at it and take a couple steps back and let people catch up to us. I’m excited for the future.”

Parker scored 21 points, including eight straight during the game-changing run in the second quarter to help the U.S. rout France.

This one was special.

Taurasi, who said she doesn’t get emotional, cried receiving her gold medal and then paraded around draped in an American flag.

“A little trip down memory lane,” Taurasi said. “The track record was going through my head. My parents, Coach was there. It was just a lot of things hit me at once and that’s what happened.”

The winning streak started in the bronze medal game in 1992. In that stretch, the Americans have won by nearly 30 points a game. Only one team has stayed within single digits of them since, and they’ve lost just once in major international competitions, to Russia in the semifinals of the 2006 world championship.

Auriemma didn’t want to get drawn into the debate of where this team ranks among the five that have won the gold.

“The United States has had great teams since 1996 and we are just another one on the list,” he said. “We accomplished the same thing they did and I don’t know if that separates us. I think it just makes us equal.”

Teresa Edwards, Dawn Staley, Sheryl Swoopes and Lisa Leslie got the amazing run started, and Taurasi, Bird and Catchings have continued it.

“The players give back. You have players coming back for a third Olympics to show the younger players what it takes to win a gold medal,” said Parker, a two-time Olympian. “I learned a lot from Tina Thompson, Lisa Leslie, Katie Smith and now Dee, Tamika, Sue. It’s just the passing down of what it takes to win. That commitment to USA Basketball.”

Catchings said the Americans “just wanted to keep that legacy going.”

Edwards, a five-time Olympian, said no worry there.

“The legacy is real,” said Edwards, who had a front-row seat Saturday night. “What these kids have been doing is amazing. Without much time to practice. In the middle of the WNBA season. And they look good. It’s like the whole world knows who we are. I’m really proud of them.”

The U.S. faced its only challenge of the London Games when Australia took a four-point halftime lead. It was the first time in 12 years that the Americans had been trailing at the half. There was no panic or worry. They just stepped up their defense and vanquished the Australians, winning by 13 points.

“It’s not easy to just be put together and be expected to win a gold medal,” Taurasi said. “It’s a special feeling.”

France, which came into the gold medal game unbeaten, stayed with the U.S. for the first 12 minutes before Parker took over. She scored eight straight points during a 13-2 run that gave the U.S. a 37-23 advantage. Twice the 6-foot-4 Parker grabbed the rebound on the defensive end and dribbled up through the defense scoring on the other.

While Parker—who also had 11 rebounds—was providing the offense, the Americans turned up their defense, holding France to just one basket over the final 7:25 of the half.

“We always felt like as long as we played our best…we’d be all right,” Bird said.

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