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Having beaten Spain by 40 points in the preliminary round, USA were clear favourites coming into the gold medal match. After a strong start saw Spain lead much of the opening quarter, the US took control of the game, turning a 10-0 run into a 17-point half-time lead. After Angel McCoughtry hit a layup and connected on two free throw attempts, the US never trailed again. There was no way back for Spain as Diana Taurasi and Lindsay Whalen threw 17 points each, while Maya Moore potted 14.
For Taurasi, it was not just about winning, but making history: “It's pretty incredible. We had a goal to win the gold medal but there’s something more to it than that. It’s not about one person, one coach, it’s about, ‘how can we make this the best basketball team ever?’”
Moore explained the concentration needed to keep winning: “It’s one thing to do something unexpected, but it’s another thing to do something you’re supposed to do, year after year, game after game, quarter after quarter, and this team didn’t get complacent. I think that’s the sign of a true champion, someone who loves the game and plays for the right reasons.”
With the Rio title win, the US extended their Olympic unbeaten streak to a staggering 49 games. Three US players — Sue Bird, Taurasi and Tamika Catchings — equalled the Olympic record of four gold medals in basketball.
Only two other teams can claim such an undefeated run in an Olympic team sport. The US men’s basketball team earned seven consecutive gold medals from 1936-1968 while India claimed six-straight men’s field hockey titles from 1928-1956.
For Spain, the silver was their first Olympic women’s basketball medal. Alba Torrens dedicated it to years of making sacrifices: “We knew one thing when we came here. We needed to go game by game. Every game was a final for us. The whole tournament was so tough. And at the end we were going ahead, going ahead and we’re here. I think that this medal pays off for so much work. Not just this tournament, not just this year, not just last year. It’s a long time that Spanish basketball is working so hard. We are getting good results and I think this one is a pay-off for the hard work.”
“With Laura Nicholls, I think it's 13 years already,” Torrens recalled the time played together with other more experienced team-mates. “We remembered the first medal we won together when we were 16 years old. And now we're here, at the Olympic Games, with the medal. It's so special.”
Serbia's women won their first Olympic basketball medal in a hard-fought 70-63 victory over France, a conquest their coach Marina Maljkovic likened to climbing Mount Everest without oxygen. Serbia’s road to bronze was no plain sailing as they lost their first three games in Rio. Against the French, they got a strong start only to fall apart in the second quarter, allowing them to tie the score at 27-27 by half-time.
Coach Maljkovic walked out of the team dressing room during the break to provoke the right response from her players: “I just felt that something had to be done to get the team in order and focused. I was like, ‘What's going on? Why do we have to take the hardest way?’”
The players took the criticism on board to prevail. The bronze match was the first medal game for Serbia’s women since becoming an independent nation. The European champions, ranked 14th in the Olympic tournament, felt immense pressure to win a medal for a country where basketball is one of the most popular sports.
“The biggest moment will be when we come to Serbia. This medal is big. We like to make our people happy and we know that sport is one thing that makes people happy. We showed that when it’s hardest, we are the strongest,” said Ana Dabovic. The Serbian men's team will play for gold in the final against the United States.