Taking The World By Storm - Aug. 28

It was the matchup everyone wanted in the gold-medal game of the 2004 Athens Olympics, and it proved to be virtually everything it was expected to be. The Australian "Price Attack" Opals demonstrated convincingly throughout the Olympics how much they've improved since winning the silver medal in Sydney in 2000, dominating their competition through the first seven games and playing the U.S. tough throughout the finals, but in the end the USA Basketball Senior Women's National Team proved to once again be the best in the world, dominating the fourth quarter for a 74-63 victory and a third straight gold medal.

Tina Thompson's defense stifled Jackson.
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The story of the game, perhaps, was the U.S. becoming the first team in these Games to truly shut down Australian (and Seattle Storm) star Lauren Jackson. Jackson finished with her second straight double-double, scoring 12 points and pulling down a game-high 14 rebounds, but shot just 4-for-16 from the field, two of those baskets coming late in the game after its outcome was already decided. Without Jackson playing at her usual MVP level, her Australian teammates battled valiantly but did not have enough offense down the stretch.

The first quarter was very even, with the U.S. getting off to an uncharacteristically strong start, but Australia rallied to tie the game at 17 after 10 minutes. At times during the second quarter, the Americans looked to be on the verge of taking command, particularly with Australian posts Jackson and Suzy Batkovic both picking up two fouls, forcing them to play more conservatively. Still, the Opals finished the period strong and trailed by just three, 29-26, at the break.

Australia maintained that momentum into the third quarter, scoring the first five points of the half to put the U.S. behind in the second half for the first time in the Olympics. With the Australian advantage at four points, its largest margin that far, Dawn Staley responded. The veteran of three Olympics, who had averaged just 2.7 points per game during the first seven Olympic games, scored five straight points to put the U.S. women back ahead. They also got a boost from forward Tina Thompson, who scored three buckets in the third quarter.

Australia got its own lift from Penny Taylor, who struggled in the first half but came alive in the third quarter to score 10 points. That made it a devastating blow when Taylor picked up consecutive fouls, her third and fourth, as the third quarter came to the close. A Shannon Johnson bank shot just before the buzzer gave the U.S. a 52-50 lead heading to the final period. Both offenses, which were stifled in the first half, picked up in the third quarter as the teams combined for 47 points.

Johnson continued to play a large role early in the fourth quarter as the U.S. extended its lead. A Johnson layup, followed by two free throws, were sandwiched between a Yolanda Griffith score and a free throw as the American depth began to prove the critical difference between the teams most expected it would be. That run was followed by a Thompson score to push the lead to 10 points, the USA's first double-digit margin.

In large part because of the stingy U.S. defense, the Australian offense struggled in the fourth quarter. It was not until the 5:27 mark that Taylor finally scored the Opals' first fourth-quarter basket. Johnson and Jackson traded baskets, followed by Kristi Harrower, who has looked for her shot recently during the Olympics, going coast-to-coast for a layup to cut the lead to six with just under four minutes to play.

At the 3:01 mark, U.S. Coach Van Chancellor took a timeout to regroup and get Staley back in the game for her defense and leadership. Thompson nailed a three on the ensuing possession to push the lead to nine. But Tamika Catchings fouled Taylor away from the ball, sending her to the free-throw line, where she hit both attempts. Needing a stop, Australia could not get one, with a cutting Lisa Leslie scoring in the lane. When Taylor missed a three on the Opals' next possession, that might have been the death knell for Australia. The teams traded free throws, but the clock was working in the USA's advantage by that point. An offensive rebound by Catchings took the clock under 40 seconds and a Staley layup to push the lead to 11 proved to be the capper.

After the final buzzer sounded, both teams celebrated their accomplishments over the last two weeks. Fittingly, the trio of Staley, Leslie and Sheryl Swoopes, who won their third consecutive gold medals, winning 24 straight Olympic games beginning in 1996 in Atlanta, was in the spotlight for the U.S.

The U.S. women celebrate their third consecutive gold medal.
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The U.S. was led by Thompson, who scored 18 points on 8-for-14 shooting and came up with critical scores time and again. Staley, who had scored 19 points in seven games, came up with 14 in the gold-medal game, hitting four of her five shots. Leslie, the USA's leading scorer over the course of the Olympics at 15.6 points per game, had 13 and eight rebounds in this game. Johnson, with 12 points, was the fourth player in double-figures.

With Jackson struggling, it was Taylor who led Australia with 16 points. Harrower added 11 points, while captain Trish Fallon finished with nine.

As a team, Australia shot 50% on two-point shots, but was let down by its three-point and free-throw shooting, misfiring on 21 of 24 three-pointers and shooting just 66.7% from the line. The U.S., which struggled so much with its three-point shooting early in the Olympics, shot 5-for-13 in this game. Turnovers, another U.S. weakness at times, were relatively even, with the Americans committing 13 to Australia's 12.

With the result, the Storm produced a pair of gold medalists. Guard Sue Bird, behind veterans Staley and Johnson, saw less than a minute of action, coming in at the end of the game as Chancellor took out his starters to allow the crowd to honor them. Still, Bird's willingness to accept her limited role made her a valuable member of the team. Coach Anne Donovan struck gold for the third time, adding that honor as an assistant coach to the two gold medals she won as a player. Donovan became the first woman in U.S. history to be part of gold-medal-winning teams as both a player and a coach.